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Who goes to a library for cancer information in the e-health era?

July 13, 2009

Because direct information-finding studies of corporate medical library users are rare, it is the research done in related areas that must be properly extrapolated for our use as a surrogate or proxy.  A recent study published in Library & Information Science Research by Kwon & Kim is one of those articles that might be of interest.

In the study, the authors examined three roles of the library in based on results from a secondary data analysis of the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).  The three roles examined were:

  1. Library as community outreach center meeting health information needs of underserved populations
  2. Library as a credible information source
  3. Library as educator and/or information broker

The data was collected through a survey and multivariate analysis performed. 

From the data, topic 1 was confirmed – those favoring the library as a first source were older, had fewer years of education, were less affluent, were retired or unemployed, held less health insurance coverage, and had a personal cancer history;  In fact, the most consistent predictor of library information seeking was lack of on-line health or cancer information use.

Analysis of topic 2 showed that the idea that a library was a source for quality health information resources was not fully supported.  People choosing the library as their primary cancer information source were neither particularly concerned about quality nor did they have high expectations for getting quality information.  Those choosing the library as their primary source of information showed a considerably lower level of trust in on-line cancer information sources, and the data confirmed an earlier publication citing that 69% of the American public felt that libraries and search engines provide the same amount of trustworthiness. (!)

Lastly, analysis of the last topic showed that those going to the library perceived a greater effort in finding and assessing quality health information – essentially, what they needed was “not just a click away.”  Researchers found that data collected confirmed earlier studies showing that the public library is inadequate as a health information source.

Ultimately, this demonstrated that the general public perception (especially those on the corporate side of the digital divide) is that the library does not provide any more quality information than the Internet, nor is it helpful as an intermediary lowering barriers to information seeking – and an application suggested by the authors is that “libraries should invest in further developing their image as a well-packaged, trustworthy consumer health information source”.  The authors also identified that libraries should take a more proactive intermediary role, designing services and education so people can become more knowledgeable in less time.

Kwon N and Kim K.  Who Goes to a Library for Cancer Information in the E-Health Era?  A Secondary Data Analysis of the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS).  Library & Information Science Research.  31 (2009)  192-200. Link to ScienceDirect

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