OM blog - Google Ignores Medical Librarians

Submitted by Dean Giustini on June 28, 2007 - 02:42

I've been hearing the rumours - and thinking it can't be right. Now that the announcement is out - it is an insult to health librarians everywhere. Without a single librarian - one of our own - on the Google Health Advisory Group, our profession is effectively silenced on one of the more important projects for our work since PubMed.

Shame on you Google. The Medical Library Association (MLA) should be especially annoyed at this oversight by the world's most influential search engine, and a letter should be written to Page and Brin forthwith. MLA, please tell us this is a clerical error? Google, for its part, should really take a lead from Microsoft and try to understand the symbolism of its decisions before it excludes health librarians.

Readers, do you think Adam Bosworth knows who we are? Do you think he knows about the thousands of librarians and information specialists in hospitals, clinics and consumer health libraries across the globe who work hard to teach and use their tools to deliver health information to patients every day of the year?

The announcement suggests not:

"[Google Health has] formed an advisory council, made up of healthcare experts from provider organizations, consumer and disease-based groups, physician organizations, research institutions, policy foundations, and other fields. The mission of the Google Health Advisory Council is broadly to help us better understand the problems consumers and providers face every day and offer feedback on product ideas and development."

Imagine what the American Medical Association (AMA) or the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) (in short, the doctors) would have said had they not been asked to participate? The newly-formed Google Health Advisory Group mostly consists of MDs, with some representation from health provider and consumer groups - but no hospital librarians, no clinical librarians, no consumer health librarians or informationists. In fact, no nurses, no therapists nor technologists. It's a list that surprises by its one-dimensionality, and its errors of omission.

Note to Google: Who do you think provides patient education and materials to consumers? It's nurses. It's health librarians. In the information age, librarians are equal partners in the delivery of health care, in case you haven't noticed. Who do you believe is responsible for delivering information to patients outside of the clinical team? Further, who knows these tools better than health librarians?

Your stock among health librarians has plummeted today. Tut tut, Google Health.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.


When Martin Luther translated the Latin Bible into vernacular German, he infuriated the Catholic establishment. Now laypeople could read the sacred texts themselves and make their own judgments. Unthinkable!

Google is making the sacred texts available to the masses. Why should medical librarians feel threatened? If they were involved in the project, would they play the role of Martin Luther or the Catholic establishment?

Dear Anonymous,

Your question is asking about digitization but my post is about consultation. We want to be involved in the development of search tools because physicians use them, as do patients and health consumers. The Google Health Advisory Council consists of MDs, and that's great, but there should be a nurse, pharmacist and medical librarian on board, too.

Dean Giustini



Dean is exactly right. Medical librarians do not feel threatened by Google; many of the medical librarians I know use it as one of many tools for locating health information. The objection lies in the fact that a company working toward connecting people to health information, and realizing that it needed direction in the form of an advisory group, did not include one member of the profession that has that very connection as it's primary purpose. In other words, if you form an advisory group on a topic, you presumably need experts on the topic, and those experts are the professional medical librarians who do this work every single day.


Oh dear - the sound of an anguished libro-saur! If I may say so, how arrogant this post sounds.

Perhaps if the general run of librarians had taken time to understand Google (and why users were turning to it) and build services on top of it they wouldn't be feeling left out today.

Anyways, even if one believes that librarians are still the main providers of information, maybe it's a mistake to think Google Health is primarily about information. Maybe it's more about personal health records. - hope so because that's really important, while access to health information problem is 80% solved, with or (mostly) without the help of librarians.

Personally, I'm glad to see people like John Halamka on the board and I wish it well. Jump up and down all you like in library la la land. Maybe it's your turn next. But first you'll need to do something genuinely useful. I hope you can, because I'm married to one. But first you'll need to start thinking and acting differently. The signs aren't too promising you've got to admit.