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Countway Library Hosts Innovation and Collaboration Open House

Five speakers present on new technology, new projects and new ways of operating.

David Osterbur and Julia Whelan speaking

September 10, 2013—On Thursday August 29, the Countway Library held an open house and mini-symposium as a welcome to Sarah Thomas as she begins her new role as vice president for the Harvard Library. The mini-symposium was organized around a theme of innovation and collaboration; presentations were delivered by five speakers:

  • Dr. Griffin Weber—chief technology officer of the Harvard Medical School, assistant professor of medicine at HMS in the Division of Interdisciplinary Medicine and Biotechnology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), director of the biomedical research informatics core at BIDMC and the academic analytics advisor to the Office of the Provost at Harvard University—spoke about Harvard Profiles, a tool he designed specifically to enhance collaboration among the faculty. The tool uses several methods to pull together common themes across a group of researchers. For example, Griffin mentioned that the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) taxonomy contains a controlled vocabulary of terms assigned to each article that is indexed in the NLM database of medical literature PubMed. Pulling the terms associated with each researcher’s publications in PubMed Profiles allows a natural language search to enable researchers to find others doing work that is similar to (or different from) their own.
  • Emily Gustainis, archivist and head of collection services for the Center for the History of Medicine, presented work that the Center is doing—in collaboration with a number of partners—using the web-publishing platform Omeka, open-source software designed specifically to display library, museum, archives and scholarly collections exhibitions. Working with the Countway IT group, the Center is developing Omeka as its predominant web-based display tool. Gustainis specifically mentioned efforts to collaborate with the Northeastern University library system, which is working to build an archive of the social and medical history of the Boston Marathon bombing.
  • Jonathan Kennedy, senior software engineer for the Center for Biomedical Informatics and the Countway Library, spoke about the ASHE (Automatic Subject Heading Extraction) project. ASHE also makes use of the MeSH ontology. According to Kennedy, ASHE takes advantage of the extensive mapping of commonly used medical keywords in its controlled vocabulary to map words extracted from full-text open-access works that have not yet been cataloged and assign subject headings to the works. He noted that tests performed comparing ASHE-derived subject headings to those of a human cataloger show that ASHE was able to derive matching subject headings to the top five headings by the cataloger approximately 50% of the time.
  • Julia Whelan, reference and education services librarian at Countway, presented a study of the increase in publication of articles dealing with medical education as a subject compared to other areas of biomedical research. Using MeSH, Julia and her collaborators (from HMS and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School) analyzed more than 72,000 articles where medical education was one of the major subject headings of the paper. MeSH also allowed them to do a longitudinal analysis of co-topics in these articles, to look at changes in frequency over time and to analyze which co-topics were most popular with which journals.
  • Dr. David Osterbur, director of public and access services at the Countway Library, did a brief presentation about the strategic planning process that the Countway staff undertook along with staff members from both the Center for Biomedical Informatics and the Catalyst organizations. The process was centered on the areas of communications, library space, education services and research support that have resulted in the implementation of successful working groups involving staff from across the library, CBMI and Catalyst.