But then, walking through the halls on a routine morning, you might get a jarring reminder.
A few years ago, I spent six months working in the Information Science department of St Jude Children's Research Hospital. It was a lovely work environment, well-funded and at the forefront of research in several fields. (My favorite thing in the whole hospital was an unassuming split door halfway down a run-of-the-mill hospital corridor. And just outside that door were a pair of cheap plastic doorbells just like the one outside my cheap apartment, one labelled "protein synthesis," and the other labelled "genome sequencing." I never stopped finding that cool and amusing.) But if you want to talk about a potentially sad place, a hospital full of desperately sick kids has to be near the top of the list. St Jude doesn't even deal in routine cancers anymore -- these days, if a child comes to St Jude, it's because they're so sick nobody else can help them. And honestly, the kids always seemed to bear up under it pretty well, but the parents... the parents were haunted. Walking through the hallways of this hospital, when faced with the immediate reality of human need, it's easy to start to feel like the least useful person in the room.
So where does a librarian fit into this realm of human experience? What do we have to offer the parents of a sick child, or a grieving relative? I think there are a bunch of good answers to that question.
At the OHSU library, we try to offer services beyond just research: we try to provide a source of respite from the hustle of the main library, we keep a small collection of leisure reading materials, and we offer free and unrestricted Internet access. We do, of course, also offer research services to patients, families, and the general public, including resources that cater specifically to laypeople.
But there's another level on which librarians and information professionals are useful -- even crucial -- to patient well-being. Because we're here, as professionals and as an institution, to support the clinicians and researchers and students who are directly interacting with patients even in their most desperate moments. We're here to help the doctors give the best care possible; we're here to help the researchers do their work and find the treatments and cures that will save future patients and families from grief; and we're here to help train the doctors and clinicians of the future.
So admittedly, I don't have much immediate help to offer that grieving man in the hallway, and it's not like there are doctors and nurses down in the ER shouting, "call the library, STAT!" (Although the library's presence can be felt in the ER as well, even though most of the people using it there don't realize that they are.) But there's a vast quantity of information just within our holdings, not to mention the ocean of data accessible through our databases. And when the clinician, researcher, or med student needs help finding the information they need amongst that vast sea, librarians can make all the difference.