Friday, December 09, 2005

How useful are consumer health libraries in the age of google ?

I run the world's largest free patient education library, HELP ( Health Education Library for People) in Bombay, India. We are trying to find corporate partners who will help us to reach out to more people, so that more people will make use of the free services we provide. However, a common refrain I often hear is - " Now that so much information is available online and can be found so easily with google, what's the need of a library like HELP ? "
Actually, the need for real-world libraries like HELP will increase even more. I feel both online information and print libraries have complementary roles, and they are not in competition with each other ! After all, the very fact that google now wants to digitise millions of books and put them online simply corroborates the fact that books are alive and well !
In fact, the person who searches google to confirm that what their doctor is telling them is correct is exactly the sort of person we want to reach out to !
HELP can offer many additional services to such patients, who are seeking more information.
Often patients get lost on the internet ! They end up at unreliable sites and may end up misinforming themselves, because they are not sophisticated enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Morever, since so much of the information is US-centric, they cannot find information which is relevant to Bombay !
Also, while it is true that information on websites is instantly available, 24/7, much of it is not detailed or comprehensive enough. A published book, from a reliable author, on the other hand, is a complete information-rich educational product !
Also, a librarian is a "learned intermediary " who can help you hit pay-dirt quickly ! After all, no one wants to waste time searching - you want to "find " stuff !
Just like law books will not make lawyers redundant , the easy availability of information on the internet will not make libraries redundant either !


  1. Anonymous5:38 PM

    Health library is a very good idea .Sometimes the patients are hesitant in asking their doctor to elucidate what they are going through!Sometimes they feel that the doctor is too busy to clarify their silly doubts and they turn to search engines for help.The feeling 'I want to know more about this' is very hard to resist when you have search engines at your disposal.But,contrary to their expectations,they end up getting more confused ! On the other hand ,a book by a reliable author,who is an expert in his field is definitely going to be more enlightening.

  2. Anonymous3:34 AM

    Considering the impact to large number of patients, potential of broadband, your time will have better impact if it is spent on developing good website. This website can probably concentrate on more on india specific problems and solutions (including ayurveda etc).

    Since you are india based, it'll be interesting to compare india-based visitors to the site Vs visitors to the physical library as well. But then you are not really comparing apples to apples.


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