Expert searching in public health

J Med Libr Assoc. 2005 Jan;93(1):97-103.


Objective: The article explores the characteristics of public health information needs and the resources available to address those needs that distinguish it as an area of searching requiring particular expertise.

Methods: Public health searching activities from reference questions and literature search requests at a large, urban health department library were reviewed to identify the challenges in finding relevant public health information.

Results: The terminology of the information request frequently differed from the vocabularies available in the databases. Searches required the use of multiple databases and/or Web resources with diverse interfaces. Issues of the scope and features of the databases relevant to the search questions were considered.

Conclusion: Expert searching in public health differs from other types of expert searching in the subject breadth and technical demands of the databases to be searched, the fluidity and lack of standardization of the vocabulary, and the relative scarcity of high-quality investigations at the appropriate level of geographic specificity. Health sciences librarians require a broad exposure to databases, gray literature, and public health terminology to perform as expert searchers in public health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / standards*
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Librarians*
  • Libraries, Medical / standards*
  • Library Services / standards*
  • Professional Competence
  • Public Health*
  • United States
  • Vocabulary, Controlled