National Medical Librarians Month Part I: SCNM's Robert Wilbanks

In honor of National Medical Librarians Month, we had the pleasure of speaking with both of the librarians that work at SCNM’s library. Our first interview was with Robert Wilbanks.

Robert brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to SCNM, as he has been working in libraries since 1982. He has previously worked at a number of different libraries including the City of Scottsdale library, the City of Chandler library, an international business school library, a law library, and many others.

When we asked Robert what he enjoys the most about being a librarian he told us, “I love being able to find information. As a child I would always find myself in the library looking at books.” He also emphasized that he is a very service oriented person: “Being a librarian comes down to helping people.” When asked about his least favorite part of the job he jokingly told us, “When it comes to being a medical librarian, it's the gory pictures. I don’t like horror films either.”

On a more serious note, we wanted to know what has changed about libraries over time. Unfortunately, there is a sad trend of eliminating libraries and disposing of millions of books. In some cases, entire counties have shut down their library systems. Robert told us, “People have this false belief that everything is on the internet. As libraries shut down and books are disposed of, many one of a kind sources of information are lost.”

Another unique aspect of going to the library and consulting with a librarian is that they help a person to understand the quality of the information they are using. This is something that is not present when conducting internet research.  What many people do not understand is that Google’s algorithms are not un-biased. Google is a business, and it sorts based on a number of factors including who is paying for prime position in search results. Furthermore, there are many valuable sources that are not on the internet or that are buried deep in search results.

Over time, internet sources such as Wikipedia have also become known as authorities on many topics even though they are often unreliable and/or biased. Just look at the Wikipedia page for naturopathic medicine. Wikipedia entries also often lack citations or the links to citations are broken.

In regards to the flaws in Google and Wikipedia Robert told us, “This is really a form of censorship.” As non-political caretakers of information, librarians want everyone to be aware of how the internet really works and how valuable a physical library still is.

We asked Robert about his other passions and he told us that he has been doing genealogical research for over 40 years. He specializes in military genealogy, but he told us that medical genealogy can be very useful as well. It is a way to build a family tree of physical and mental health issues so doctors and patients can be more aware of genetic predispositions.

When asked if there was anything else he would like to add, Robert emphatically told us, “We want students and faculty to come here to use these resources and ask us questions!”

We would like to thank Robert for taking the time to speak with us and for all that he does for SCNM. Keep a lookout for our profile of Sally Harvey coming soon!