Medical Humanities in the Digital World: What are the opportunities for librarians…: Jane Burns

Presented at the CONUL Conference, July 2015, Athlone, Ireland by Jane Burns, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland

Medical humanities represent the intersection of the arts, humanities and healthcare which is comprised of a variety of disciplines that explore the social, historical and cultural dimensions of scientific knowledge, clinical practice and healthcare policy. They investigate and give meaning to the experiences, narratives and representations of health and illness that are sometimes ignored by the biomedical sciences alone. By exploring experience, knowledge and practice in context, the medical humanities can enrich our understanding of health, medicine and disease. For example, they can offer:
• scholarly reflection on scientific developments, clinical practice and human experience;
• opportunities to inform medical education and practice;
• new methods for examining questions about health, wellbeing and illness;
• the development of tools and techniques that allow patients and practitioners to engage reflectively and experientially.
Further development of medical humanities is made possible with advances in digital technology, online contextualization and the linking of data. Librarians have a role to play in the development of this subject area. The range of researchers that will find information contextualized in the subject area of Medical Humanities is far more reaching than those involved in Medical research.
Librarians have a role in the support and research initiatives in the field of Medical Humanities through the development of related collections for a range of users from students to researchers. In particular librarians involved in Digital Libraries/Archives can provide expert knowledge in the identification of primary source material that can facilitate research.