Books on the Bench

Last week, I began pulling books in our Consumer Health Library.  I made the ruthless decision to pull anything that was published over 5 years ago.  This weeding left me with about 25 books.  I considered some keeping some older anatomy books but many were looking their age.   I did keep the nice-looking anatomy books.  I was surrounded by books.  I had to hold back any sentimentality (mine and others–but the books are in such good shape!  they are good books!).  They are old books.

To prepare for this moment, I looked at the usage statistics for last fiscal year and the first quarter of this fiscal year.  We do not circulate our books.  We do keep hash marks for usage of these materials:  computers (we have 2 PCs), books, anatomy models, brochures (from Channing Bete and JourneyWorks), newsletters (Harvard, UC Berkeley, John Hopkins, Mayo) and magazines (Diabetes, Arthritis). 

Computers are the clear winner at 72% of the usage pie.  Truth be told, the computers are most frequently used by employees for work-related reasons.  Not a direct service to patients & their families.  Next in popularity (at 14%) are the anatomy models.  The black lung and pound-of-fat are always eye-catching.  The brochures are perused 8% of the time.  And, often taken.  The newsletters and books are tied at 3% each.

I reflected on the usual interaction between myself and a patient or family member.  Someone walks through the door.  Pushes the brochure rack around and eyes the titles.  Looks at the anatomy models.  And then asks a question.  OR… someone comes rushing through the door and asks a more desperate question.

And, what is my initial reaction?  To turn to MedlinePlus.  I don’t pull out the mammoth PDR, or the Merck, or Lange’s Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment.  Why don’t I pull out these books?  I guess I feel that MedlinePlus is faster, more consumer-friendly, and offers a variety of options.  Generally, I print out 2-3 items and slip these sheets of paper into an envelope along with a handout on how to get in touch with me for additional materials.  If the person seems interested in books, I spin around in my chair and– with a few taps on my keyboard– search the public library catalog.  I’ll even look up the hours of the local library and suggest approaching the reference librarian for a specific title.

What’s it like to get benched?  A good ball player will stay attentive to the game and be ready to go in at any time.  Books do belong in consumer health education.  Books are wonderful sources of support.  I will keep a handful of books that may come in handy.  I am open to the idea that my strategy could change.  But, for now, books are going to sit this one out.

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