Dan Doody and I had the great pleasure of facilitating the third Medical Library Association InSight Summit last week in Chicago. Fourteen representatives of information providers (both for-profit and not-for-profit) joined 13 librarians selected by MLA from a national applicant pool. The objective of the Summit was to achieve consensus on a tangible outcome, built collaboratively by librarians and industry, that will advance the mission of both communities and build firmer common ground than they stand on today.

To achieve this objective, the attendees met for a long afternoon one day, followed by a second day that started in the early morning and concluded in the middle of the afternoon. In between was a social evening where people got acquainted with people they hadn’t known before. Happily, not a single cellphone was visible during the 10-plus hours of intensive work during the sessions.

The Summit, organized by a Program Committee of three librarians, three industry representatives, and a representative of the InSight steering committee, comprised three panels, three small group discussion sessions, and sessions when all attendees reported on and synthesized key learnings from the panels.

The first panel, consisting of seven health professionals from Chicago-area academic institutions, influenced the discussions during the rest of the Summit, and the outcomes. Each of the panelists provided an overview of how they use health sciences information resources to keep up with research, teaching, and providing patient care; and they talked about the challenges and frustrations they face in discovering, accessing, and using this information.

The second panel featured presentations by three librarians – a librarian from a large academic/research institution, a librarian from a community hospital system, and a librarian who focuses on serving medical students. The members of this panel focused on telling the information providers in the room how they can be better partners to librarians.

The third panel featured senior managers from a large commercial aggregator, a society publisher that provides journals, books, and databases, and a medical society that publishes a single journal (albeit a significant one). This panel focused on describing the challenges and frustrations they face in dealing with librarians.

All the panelists provided candid and sometimes challenging observations about ways librarians and information providers can collaborate to serve users more effectively, and how to improve this collaboration became the unstated theme of the summit.

After hours of thoughtful discussion, the consensus of attendees was that the most vexing problem facing librarians and information providers as a team is how to better understand user behavior. The attendees agreed that the following next steps should occur over the next six months:

  • Create a document describing best practices in studying and reporting on user behavior
  • Create a persistent end product (a “manifesto”) that describes the current joint understanding of end-user needs
  • Design and implement a research project focusing on user experience and information discovery
  • Build commitments from information providers that end products will reflect user feedback gathered as part of this effort
  • Develop an InSight-branded digital curriculum, hosted by MLA, on user behavior
  • Foster the development of a forum on the user interface.

How will they get these done? The short answer is that the process will be agile – rapid and iterative — so that the fourth Summit of the series later this year can provide tangible outcomes to influence the activities of librarians and information providers. Dan and I look forward to facilitating that effort, and we hope the end result is stronger libraries and a more productive industry of information providers. That’s a tall order, but this summit certainly laid a strong foundation for success.