The weekend before Thanksgiving, we were delighted to be a part of the 2013 History of Science Society meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. Kathryn Hammond-Baker (from the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library) and Hanna Clutterbuck (Project Co-ordinator for the MHL) staffed our table on Friday and Saturday, giving out candy, postcards, and chatting with conference attendees about the MHL.
We were particularly interested to know what scholars would make of the MHL’s new full-text search tool. Kathryn and Hanna demonstrated the tool and talked with folks about the search tool, the MHL collection, our partner organizations, and plans for the future. Among other things, many people were surprised that:
- that their librarians hadn’t told them about the MHL;
- at the usefulness of the search tool for researchers (while acknowledging that an easier interface would attract more students);
- at the depth of the collection, even in esoteric areas like 16th century Arabic medicine and early 20th century Chilean public health; nearly every demo identified at least one resource the user would pursue; and
- that the library is freely accessible to all, no subscriptions, no fees.
More time with the MHL collection and full-text search tool might have gotten us some more detailed user information. At a minimum, we learned that we are on the right track with the full-text search tool. We learned that the MHL could fill an important gap for those institutions that, while teaching history of science and medicine, don’t have access to a deep collection of related resources. We also learned that the words “freely accessible” don’t seem to fully communicate the concept of “cost-free.” And finally, we learned that MHL exposure to target audiences is critical to our success.
What IS a library without effective discovery tools? Very, very quiet — something we abhor. The full-text search tool will help us avoid it.