I’m not going to be able to do justice to Mark E. Funk’s plenary lecture that started out the day at MLA 2012, but I’ll try to provide a few highlights. In examining the history and philosophy of medical librarianship, Funk chose to do a frequency of word analysis from text within the Journal of the Medical Library Association (formerly the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association).
Funk was able to contrast interesting trend lines, such as the decline in frequency of the word book(s) with the rise in journal(s), decline in acquisitions vs rise in licensing, and interestingly, decline in the use of the word medical/medicine and rise in health/healthcare, indicating a shift to a more holistic view of health.
He was also able to trace the start of the increase in words like strategy, collaborate, partner, focus and outcomes to the peak in bestselling management books during the late 1980s. The steady rise in this usage demonstrating that libraries are becoming more businesslike.
In a masterful break from the rhythm of his lecture, he engaged the audience by asking us to vote on the technology whose word usage trend line most resembled the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, i.e., a steep incline and decline. The audience voted by texting their answer to a number, which then interacted with a polling website to show real-time results. The nominees were CDROM, MOSAIC, PDAS and GOPHER. Anyone remember the winner?
He ended his lecture posing the question whether the semantic web and cost-cutting would lead to the decline of or inspire a great age of libraries.
After listening to various speakers all day – from librarians supporting research teams with data management expertise to those partnering with doctors to support a public health radio show – I’ll have to go with the latter. At MLA, I’m hearing stories of librarians reaching out to collaborate with and meet the needs of user communities like never before. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’ famous quote, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”