As information becomes increasingly specialized and new forms of data and databases are developed, librarians must adapt their skills and expertise to position themselves to meet their organizations' existing goals and to anticipate future needs. These concerns are critical in the area of biomedicine where rapidly accumulating genetic information is increasingly affecting the practice of medicine. It is therefore imperative that medical librarians proactively prepare to meet the changing information requirements of health care professionals.
The model of training described in this paper is enabled by a strong culture of proactive learning. It is essential that trainees are willing to incorporate the principles of lifelong learning into their daily professional practice. Further, leadership support is vital to the success of training efforts of this magnitude, given the time and resources required from all the personnel involved. Although the structure and the set-up for learning is likely to be unique in each library, the authors feel that implementing the training program described in this paper will be difficult without the support of a learning environment.
The results from this study demonstrate that medical librarians are capable of assimilating new and complex knowledge. Significantly, all participants improved their level of comprehension of molecular biology concepts and resources (). Therefore, background factors such as years of professional experience in medical librarianship and level of previous education in the subject area should not deter the training of any individuals committed to learning. However, the possible impact of these factors should be considered in the process of developing the training course.
A question that is often asked is whether a previous degree in the biological sciences is necessary to develop skills in bioinformatics. The results of this study indicate that this is not the case, as shown in . While a background in biology provided an advantage on the pretest for some participants; on the posttest, the advantage disappeared. Independent of undergraduate degree, if given the opportunity, all trainees were capable of increasing their competencies in molecular biology to similar levels.
An important observation was made during the study, because the results seemed to suggest that years of experience had an impact on the learning process. As discussed above, junior participants scored higher on the posttest than their more senior colleagues, as shown in and . The authors speculate that as the number of years of experience searching bibliographic databases increases, the transfer of searching skills to molecular biology databases that are very different in content and use becomes more challenging. The participants with five years or less of professional experience may have had higher average databases scores, because they are still familiarizing themselves with searching all types of databases. While the data support this hypothesis, this interpretation might be limited by sample size and will require further verification.
Interestingly, it was also noted that, in spite of the option of testing out of module sections, there was some evidence that the participants who were exempted would have benefited from attending the formal lectures. As reported in the results, a participant (#15) who tested out of the research literature section improved by only six percentage points and was surpassed on the posttest by other trainees (). Although this is only a single example, it suggests that individuals with prior training may still benefit from repeating course material to reinforce understanding, especially in a dynamic area such as molecular biology.
The fact that the pre- and posttests consisted of subject-oriented factual questions is a limitation of the study. The training was not designed to simulate real life scenarios but rather to develop subject knowledge, as this foundation is clearly fundamental for understanding concepts and terminology. The absence of a clear understanding of basic concepts will have a negative impact on the ability of the information specialist to communicate effectively with users and earn their respect and trust. The team realizes the importance of practice with actual user questions and plans to address this in future training.
To maintain and continue the development of knowledge over time, additional training opportunities are being planned as an ongoing effort to constantly target skills and competencies in the field of molecular biology and genetics. Periodic open-book retention tests will be followed by refresher sessions that will emphasize material not well retained. Open-book format has been chosen, because it more closely mimics the actual situation in which librarians have information resources available. Therefore, this approach will evaluate trainees' abilities to find information at the time of need. Also, user query practice will be provided as part of the library's established continuing education sessions. The current plan is to make training in genetics and molecular biology mandatory in the learning plans of all new interns hired by the library. Given the complex and dynamic nature of the subject material, the course will be constantly refined based on the results of this study and comments received from all participants during training sessions.