By the mid 2000s, reports of hospital librarians losing jobs and hospital libraries closing were rife. In 2005, Vital Pathways: The Hospital Libraries Project was established by 2005/06 MLA President M.J. Tooey, AHIP, FMLA, to assess the truth of these reports and to study and develop strategies to support hospital librarians. Throughout this long-term project, opportunities were sought to understand the issues more clearly.
A steering committee, along with three task forces, was established to carry out the work of the project. The steering committee provided oversight and had responsibility for promoting and marketing the project. The three task forces were responsible for conducting a survey on the status of hospital librarians, determining the involvement of librarians in medical education and accreditation, and researching and writing a document reviewing current and future roles for hospital librarians. Along the way, these responsibilities grew and evolved.
After a little more than three years, the Task Force on Vital Pathways for Hospital Librarians Steering Committee presented a final report regarding its accomplishments to the MLA Board of Directors. A sampling of these accomplishments includes the status of hospital librarians survey, a website, a position document with an accompanying executive summary, a short promotional brochure, and a final culminating activity, this symposium.
Although these are difficult times for all libraries, hospital librarians and libraries seem particularly affected. In a competitive health care environment that is driven by the bottom line, influenced by real estate hunger, and affected by the belief of hospital administrators that access to health information comes from the Internet and is free, the hospital librarian seems doomed. However, even in these difficult times, there are hospital librarians who are not only surviving, but thriving. Is it because they are entrepreneurial? Opportunistic? Innovative? Flexible? All of the above? None of the above? There are no clear predictors of success or of failure. However, the Vital Pathways Project has shed light on some of the issues and identified opportunities and strategies for the future.