I have spent an absurd amount of time on PubMed recently and can say in no uncertain terms that it is making my dissertation writing way more painful than it needs to be. I can hold a paper in my hands, search for two authors’ last names and have PubMed come up with nothing.
PubMed, however is probably the most widely used bibliographic database in the world. Certainly in the world of Medicine. Many libraries run special classes to teach the intricacies of PubMed. We -librarians- have to admit, searching PubMed is not easy. It is certainly not intuitive. After you’ve found what you searched for, then it is complicated to get the information over to another programme such as Reference Manager or EdnNote. If you succeed in that, you get abbreviated journal title’s, authors with maximally two initials etc….
How surprising was the reaction of Dean Giustini. Well his reaction is perhaps typical for a librarian in general, we go out and teach the user a few tricks. We teach and teach. The database is not broken! It’s the user we need to mend.
I thought Dean would know better than this. Of course he is right in the fact that this complaint on PubMed is an excellent teaching moment. But I would rather stress the message from Anna Kushnir, and that is that searching PubMed is not intuitive. Far from it. Even if you would have had classes some years ago in searching PubMed, that knowledge is now obsolete. That is good for PubMed, they innovate and improve, but when we think that refresher courses in searching PubMed should be high of the lists of Doctors, surgeon and medical researchers, we are speculating on the wrong track. They simply don’t have time for these courses. It is a rat race to keep informed on the progress of their own specialities. Why would they need courses for full time MLIS professionals to search a bibliographic database?
We have to go out there and listen to our users. Anna Kushnir is one of them. Her message is plain and simple, searching PubMed -however good we think it already might be- should become more intuitive. I think we should do a lot better and can do a lot better to build these more intuitive search engines.
I see the post from Anna more as a challenge for our profession, than as a teaching moment.