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Sanford School of Medicine building that the Wegner library is located in

Public service coupled with assistance to students and faculty defines library mission

“Yes, the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine does indeed have a library,” explained Dan Daily, before expressing his belief that the medical school’s library in Sioux Falls is one of the university’s lesser known treasures. Daily is dean of libraries at the USD, including the library serving the medical school.

Wegner Library sitting area

Daily also emphasized the unique service model of the Wegner library, officially called the Wegner Health Science Information Center. “From the very beginning,” he noted, “the library sought to not only serve the medical school’s students and faculty, but to also contribute to public service and health care in our state and region.”

How the library serves students, faculty and the public is another interesting component comprising the library’s surprisingly expansive mission.

Starting with the basics, understand that the medical school’s library doesn’t resemble what might have been described as a conventional library slightly more than a decade ago. That’s how fast things have changed in the realm of libraries. The medical school’s library is a storehouse of information that isn’t on shelves – it’s online.

Hard copy books, magazines, journals and reports occupy little space in the Wegner library. Instead, nearly all sources of information that library patrons seek out and benefit from are digital.

Consider that in 2019 the library subscribed to 7,696 journal titles. Only a tiny fraction of that number – about 20 – are available to library users in a printed paper format.

And although it is a handsome, comfortable facility, most users enter the library not through the front doors, but via phone or email.

Opened in 1998, the Wegner library is named after the late Dr. Karl Wegner, former dean of the medical school and champion to expand the medical school from a two-year program to a four-year, degree-granting institution. The facility was originally named the Karl and Mary Jo Wegner Health Science Information Center. Attached to USD’s Health Science Center – home to the administrative offices of the medical school – that is located on the campus of Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, the library was funded by donations from private individuals, medical institutions and South Dakota businesses.

The mission of the Wegner library includes serving not just the medical school’s students, residents and faculty. A collective of institutions with like-minded and public needs have been brought together as active, involved partners in the Wegner operation.

Before there was a Wegner library, Sanford USD Medical Center and the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Sioux Falls housed their own medical libraries. That the libraries serving those two large institutions closed was part of a bigger trend across the nation. In 2007 there were 2,055 hospital libraries in the United States. Ten years later, that number had dropped to 1,384.

Wegner Library work spaces

Medical students and health science students on USD’s main campus in Vermillion had been served by the Lommen Library – named after Peter Lommen, the medical school’s first dean – that was part of the larger I.D. Weeks Library. In 2010, the Lommen facility was discontinued when the I.D. Weeks Library was expanded. Two health science librarians are now part of the I.D. Weeks Library team, assuring that health information remains accessible in Vermillion. The void left by library closures at Sanford USD Medical Center and the VA Hospital has been filled by the Wegner library.

Wegner users now include health professionals at those two large institutions plus students and others from other Wegner partners, including the Mount Marty College nurse anesthesia program, South Dakota State University’s nursing program, college of pharmacy and allied health professions, and the nursing program at the University of Sioux Falls. Primary users are the USD medical school and USD’s School of Health Sciences. Plans are to recruit other institutions to join the Wegner system.

“Use of the library has increased in recent years,” said Daily. “Much of that use is associated with remote use.” Indeed, during FY 2019, 33,387 users visited the library. During that same time frame, approximately 46,000 people visited the library’s website. Study rooms in the library were used on 1,559 occasions.

Sprinkled about the library on an autumn afternoon are medical students using different areas as places to gather with other students for group study sessions or to work individually. There are small rooms or cafe-like booths. New, individual study “capsules,” the result of a recent remodel, offer private settings for study. Traditional desks and tables are also available, along with many comfortable chairs in a casual section of the building featuring natural light streaming in from a long wall of windows. An advantage of visiting the library is the faceto- face opportunities associated with having a skilled librarian who can help navigate the maze of journals and other resources.

“Just like libraries have always done, we provide access to knowledge and serve as guides to locate knowledge,” said Molly Youngkin, a librarian in the Wegner library. “We provide lots of personalized instruction,“ added Shelie Vacek, on-site director of the Wegner library and a health sciences librarian.

Medical students are increasingly interested in pursuing scholarship and research, and the Wegner library is crucial to helping them do so, said Dr. Tim Ridgway, executive dean of the medical school. “The library is invaluable to students pursuing research whether it be part of the Scholarship Pathways program or other research projects students pursue,” said Ridgway. “It is a beacon of scholarship.”

"We are continually seeking stronger and more active connections with national organizations as well as local, state and national strategic partners to help the Wagner library better serve South Dakota." - Dan Daily, dean of libraries, University of South Dakota

Research projects encourage students to tackle meaningful investigations and inquiries about relevant medical topics, a worthwhile trait that will benefit a physician for the rest of his/her career. Research accomplishments during medical school also help students boost their appeal during the highly competitive process of landing a residency. “There are many benefits for our students when they become involved in serious research,” said Ridgway. “Without the library, they would have difficulties doing this important work.”

Scholarship Pathways students work on a single medical research project for much of their career as students that culminates with a formal poster presentation. The depth and detail of their projects is demanding, and the library and its librarians teach different one-hour courses that explain how to effectively and efficiently investigate research sources and search multiple databases.

The library and its specially trained library staff are also able to help students prepare for Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (known as OSCE), providing hands-on demonstrations to students as well as guidance on searching for evidence-based literature to support their decision-making on a specific diagnosis, and for educating the OSCE simulated patient regarding testing, treatment, follow-up, reporting and any other additional information that might be needed. This is a major learning advantage for students.

Wegner library staff: Roberta Beukelman, Kara Vehar, Mark Schroeder, Anna Gleschen, Molly Youngkin, Shelle Vacek
Wegner library staff includes, left to right, front row: Roberta Beukelman, Kara Vehar, Mark Schroeder; back row: Anna Gieschen, Molly Youngkin and Shelie Vacek. Not pictured are Edin Begic and Steven Prendergast.

Dr. Ridgway is intimately involved in the recruitment of physicians to serve as faculty for the medical school, and the presence and benefits of the library give him an important tool in that process. “One of the biggest draws to securing a faculty appointment to the school of medicine,” he explained, “is the opportunity for that physician to have unfettered access to the resources of our library, including its excellent staff. When I promote the benefits of being a faculty member to a physician, it’s one of the first things I describe. That can mean so much to a physician in clinical practice who is constantly looking for new knowledge and information.”

Serving users outside the school’s population of medical students and faculty continues to be a critical component to the library’s mission.

According to Shelie Vacek, nurses are one of the largest groups of library users. “Our tracking of inquiries,” she explained, “discovered the high rate of use by nurses, especially by nurses at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls.”

Those nurses, said Vacek, are seeking assistance for everything from medical standards and procedures to articles about research. “Some of the requests are coming from nurses making inquiries for physicians or for an interdisciplinary team of health care providers,” she reported. Some inquiries from health care professionals are categorized as seeking “pure research” and others involve clinical issues and problems. “In the case of research,” Vacek explained, “we can deliver research information that allows a physician or someone in health care to turn that research into practice that benefits patients.”

Vacek noted that a variety of other health care professionals regularly use the library and its resources. “We’re seeing many types of therapists, such as speech and physical therapists, as well as sports physiologists, pharmacists and genetic counselors and many others are using the library and our vast research network,” she explained. “We can empower these professionals to do research. We actually train people how to do research. We provide a vital service in this regard.”

Molly Youngkin, who specializes in library outreach services, assists with information inquiries and online searches. She also teaches non-medical librarians at public libraries and health care professionals how to use pertinent medical resources and how to identify quality websites that provide reliable, professional health care information. “We want more people to understand what a quality medical library can do,” said Youngkin. “I enjoy helping people find information and knowledge.” Youngkin’s outreach work is aided by resources and funding from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), a program of the National Institutes of Health. The Wegner library is a member of the NNLM.

Wegner’s professional librarians can also help medical professionals evaluate opportunities to publish research. “There are reputable journals,” explained librarian Anna Gieschen, “and there are less than reputable and predatory journals. We can help vet publishers for researchers looking to publish their work.” Gieschen specializes in assisting health care professionals with research and publishing.

Sanford USD Medical Center Wegner Library

The library system at USD, including the Wegner library, is developing an openaccess repository for research projects and other works of scholarship and creativity by students, faculty and institutional partners that is known as RED (Research. Engage. Design). This system will be especially advantageous to students who will learn about the process of publishing their research as well as feeling the satisfaction of contributing their research as a public benefit. RED can be accessed via the webpage of the university’s libraries.

All these benefits of the Wegner library are guided by a skilled board of directors that represents the university, institutional partners and members of the public. “Our board is helping us serve not only the medical school and the university,” said Daily, “but also the general public and the state of South Dakota.” The board’s guidance, according to Daily, has been expanded from financial oversight to mission development and satisfying the library’s public service model.

To accomplish the library’s ambitious and unique service model requires an annual budget of about $2.4 million. That may surprise some, but Vacek points to rising costs of medical and health care journals as a central reason for the budget. “The cost for each of over 7,000 journals we subscribe to ranges from about $500 per year to over $13,000 annually,” she explained.

That budget is paid by library partners, and the amount paid by the partners is figured by the number of subscribers and users. USD covers half of the expense. Sanford Health picks up the tab for 25 percent. The other partners cover the rest.

“The Wegner library is uniquely positioned to advance health care, medical and health sciences education and biomedical research,” explained Daily. “We are continually seeking stronger and more active connections with national organizations, as well as local, state and national strategic partners to help us better serve South Dakota.”

Partner Organizations

  • Mount Marty College Nurse Anesthesia Program
  • Sanford USD Medical Center
  • Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Medical Center
  • South Dakota State University College of Nursing
  • South Dakota State University College of Pharmacy & Allied Health Professions
  • University of Sioux Falls School of Nursing
  • University of South Dakota School of Health Sciences and the Sanford School of Medicine