Information is a very essential commodity. All categories of people need it to survive. In its great importance, information can not only save one from contacting or being infected with a certain sickness, it can go a long way to restoring, curing and offering other therapeutic options for individuals. Information can acquit a prisoner and of course enlighten the uninformed. Information, no doubt is a major asset of any nation. But then, in this era of information explosion where it has become somewhat impossible to measure and control the number of information at our disposal, the special effort of the librarian is required to sieve out the healthy tablets of these pieces of information. The availability of well sieved information in the health and medical sector and its prompt dissemination is a determinant for either life or death. This obviously is where the librarian's role comes into play. Libraries today, including most hospital based patients' libraries are involved only peripherally in providing patient-health information (Roth, 1978)
Most times, information is spread without regard to its impact and consequences especially in such critical and sensitive area as the medical and health sector. Provision of quality harmless information is not exclusive of hospital patients and medical practitioners. There are several others, specially disadvantaged as regards quality and prompt information: the rural dwellers, the prison inmates, the blind, the handicapped, the barrack dwellers, and others. This paper however will focus on hospital patients and medical practitioners. New research developments and innovations come up daily thereby challenging Nigerian medical practitioners and health workers who have insufficient information, are somewhat distant and not involved in the innovations and research breakthroughs.
The librarian therefore is expected to join the medical personnel in a collaborative way to give adequate and reliable information to their clients - the patients. Information is not only power but also life. Constantly, there is need for urgent dissemination of information to both medical personnel and their patients regarding constant perennial (or outbreak of) sicknesses in both urban and rural areas. Adequate and strategic information on the prevention and cure for such recurring sicknesses as malaria, fever, measles, chicken-pox, cancer, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis and very recently the ebola virus is no doubt very essential. The worry therefore is to determine whether there is adequate reliable and dependable health information on these. That must be the reason why Godbolt et al (2010) observed that health messages (information) even at the government level are often confused and unreliable. And so, the librarian must work alongside medical personnel in the provision of unbiased information for himself and the patients. How many Nigerians really know the causes, symptoms and prevention for this recently popular and very deadly ebola virus?
Overview of health and medical libraries
In ancient Egypt, a college of physicians existed in eleventh century BC. Similar ones were also found at Athens in the first century BC. The modern hospital library drew its origin from the colonial America. Through the help of Benjamin Franklin, the first medical library was founded in 1762, (Lett, 2003). By 1800, many notable medical libraries have sprouted in the United States. In 18th century AD in Nigeria, the role and character of hospitals has undergone noticeable changes. The medical and health libraries had shifted from its colonial/missionary church-support library to a more independent entity. The Central Medical Library founded in 1945 is the oldest medical library in Nigeria (Belleh, 1975). But then, prior to the formation of such strategic health body as Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in 1977, other medical institutes from the colonial masters in the 1920's has been in existence. Such institutes as The Rockefeller Foundation, Yellow Fever Commission to West of Africa flourished. The NIMR however remained the only institute concerned with research into human medicine in Nigeria until the establishment of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development in Abuja.
The nature and role of medical libraries
The medical library is categorized under special libraries as a result of its special nature basically considering the kinds of clientele it serves. Its major role is to provide information and knowledge resources which are vital and critical to the parent institution, the clientele and other users as a fulfillment of the major objectives of the organization. The nature of information resources found in medical libraries should be carefully selected and therefore should pay enough attention to the nature of patients it is poised to serve. It is therefore the onus of the librarian to use his professional skills and mastery in information selection/acquisition, retrieval, packaging and repackaging as well as dissemination to provide quality information pieces for the medical personnel, the patients and other medical library users in search for healthy information.
As a special kind of library, the nature of information materials found in hospital libraries differ in a number of ways from information found in other conventional libraries. This is obviously as a result of the special...