Mayo Clinic Director of Libraries J. Michael Homan Retires

March 27, 2015 at 11:28 am

J. Michael Homan retired as Mayo Clinic Director of Libraries in December 2014 after 20 years at Mayo Clinic. His health sciences library career spanned more than 40 years which included significant changes in how knowledge is accessed and managed including the development of the Internet and preference in science and medicine for electronic journals as the primary source of knowledge content. We asked him a few questions at the close of his career.

Liblog: What brought you to the Mayo Clinic?

Homan: I had previously lived in the Midwest prior to coming to Mayo Clinic. I lived in Chicago for 2 years where I obtained my Master’s degree from the University of Chicago and I worked for 8 years in Kalamazoo, Michigan at The Upjohn Company (now Pfizer) Corporate Technical Library – the library for the company’s research division. So, I knew and liked the Midwest and had certainly heard of Mayo Clinic. When the job at the Clinic was advertised, a friend from Bismarck, North Dakota and a friend who was then the director of the health science libraries at Dartmouth simultaneously both said “you should check out Mayo Clinic– it’s a great institution.” I had returned to California (UC Irvine) from Upjohn to help plan and build a consolidated science library and that project was nearing completion when the Mayo job became available. Joining Mayo was the best career decision I ever made.

Liblog: What are you most proud of in your Mayo Clinic career?

Homan: I am most proud of the staff of the Mayo Clinic Libraries and Historical Archives at all sites which quickly evolved from a required focus on the management of significant print collections to the efficient and effective management of electronic collections, utilization of electronic tools, development of software, digitization, and provision of mediated services to benefit Mayo Clinic employees and students. It has been exciting to see a committed staff recognize the major changes occurring in scholarship and technology and to take advantage of these on behalf of the institution. This would not have been possible without the committed partnership of Mayo IT, particularly the Research Computing Center which in the early years implemented the distribution of licensed enterprise databases via University of Minnesota Gopher software (the Library dubbed the initial suite of databases “MayoSearch”) and initiated Internet and intranet developments including the Library’s first website which quickly replaced Gopher for distribution of electronic resources at the institution. I’ve also benefitted from the advice and counsel of an awesome Library Advisory Committee comprised of physicians, scientists, students, and librarians who have helped look after the ongoing development and excellence of the Mayo Library System.

Liblog: What further evolution do you see in library electronic resources?

Homan: There is a reason that Mayo employees and students generally prefer electronic resources and that is the convenience of having authoritative information at their fingertips for timely clinical, scientific, educational, and administrative decision making. The convenience factor and the power of the interfaces and general search tools to facilitate discovery means that the online knowledge container format will continue to evolve including development of additional sophisticated features and interfaces in the future. In the health sciences an important issue is linking library electronic resources in contextual and sophisticated ways within the electronic medical record environment to assist health practitioners with authoritative and timely information while they are working in the patient care/EMR environment. Print journals are now a rarity and much of the extensive Mayo collection is housed remotely in Mayo warehouse space or in the Minnesota Library Access Center, the limestone caves beneath the west bank of the University of Minnesota. Space formerly used to house the print collections has been repurposed for group study and additional technology access for employees and students. Printed books remain an important knowledge container for many employees and students. The Mayo Library has been agnostic related to knowledge container format – books have remained valuable to students and faculty and the Library has continued to acquire and manage them. Since electronic resources are never really owned but only licensed for access a major ongoing activity of libraries is the effective management of the various institutional licenses for electronic access – which at Mayo is done in close collaboration with Supply Chain Management.

Liblog: What technological changes over time seem most significant to you?

Homan: The development of the Internet and Web have been the most significant – and more recently the widespread use of mobile devices and tablets. For libraries and archives the development of sophisticated systems to manage both traditional and electronic resources was also an important evolution. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been involved in a number of significant technology advances benefiting library users. At the beginning of my career in the early 1970’s I did MEDLARS batch process searches as an employee of the MEDLARS search center at the UCLA Biomedical Library in Los Angeles – my first job. Searches took 3 weeks from the time a packet of punched cards was sent to the National Library of Medicine for processing until the time a printout was received. It certainly had advantages over manual searching of the printed Index Medicus, but the 3 week wait time was pretty excessive. During my first year at UCLA, the National Library of Medicine contracted with Systems Development Corporation in Santa Monica to program an online system called AIM-TWX (Abridged Index Medicus via Teletypewriter Exchange) which later morphed into the MEDLINE system – and now PubMed. It was a local telephone call from the UCLA Biomedical Library to SDC in Santa Monica (no Internet in those days) and the UCLA searchers gained a great deal of early experience with online search systems. Later when online training was established by NLM I used the ARPANET (forerunner of the Internet) for the first time to connect to the NLM computer for the MEDLINE classes. It was not until Netscape went public in 1995 – the year after I joined Mayo — that things really took off for both publishers and libraries and led to the development of full-text electronic resources and what we now refer to as the Mayo Digital Library which is a suite of electronic resources (databases, full-text journals and books, drug information systems, point of care systems) which are distributed via the secure Mayo Clinic intranet to all Mayo Clinic sites, employees and students.

Liblog: When did you have the most fun on your job?

Homan: When you’re having fun 20 years can pass rather quickly. For the most part my years and projects at Mayo have all been fun – even considering the required belt tightening due to the recession and more recently the expected impacts of the ACA. My greatest gift from Mayo Clinic was the trust they provided in me to do the best job possible — plus the resources to make things happen and the great advice and good counsel of many. I still remember the early advice of a member of the Library Advisory Committee – “Don’t propose too many simultaneous projects – since at Mayo if they are good projects they will likely be approved and funded – and then you’ll have to follow through.” The follow-through has been great fun – with the significant help of many, most especially the staff of the Mayo Clinic Libraries.


The staff of the Mayo Clinic Libraries thank Michael for his years of service and wish him the best in retirement.

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Selected websites with authoritative information on drugs and supplements Issue no. 53, March 2015

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