[Libs-Or] Required Reading for Everyone in the Health Sciences: Mapping the Literature of Occupational Therapy: An Update by Jonathan Potter

hleman at samhealth.org hleman at samhealth.org
Tue Sep 7 12:05:43 PDT 2010

I wrote the below for the PNC Weblog


but think it might be of interest to many non-medical librarians. Potter's article is excellent.

Hope Leman, MLIS
Research Information Technologist
Center for Health Research and Quality
Samaritan Health Services
815 NW 9th Street Suite 203A
Corvallis, OR 97330
(541) 768-5712

Required Reading for Everyone in the Health Sciences: Mapping the Literature of Occupational Therapy: An Update by Jonathan Potter September 7th, 2010

Author: Hope Leman

One of the nicest things about the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association is that our fellow members draw our attention to articles of note by other members.

For example, in a recent post "PNC Authors in July's JMLA" Alison Aldrich drew our attention to articles in the July issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association that were written by members of the PNC. I had not received by hard copy of that issue of JMLA at that point and so appreciated all the more Alison's heads-up so as to be on the lookout for those articles when it arrived. As she wrote, "Go, team!"

And thanks to the enlightened polices of the MLA, JMLA is an Open Access journal. This is particularly important given that the article I will discuss in this post, "Mapping the Literature of Occupational Therapy: An Update" by Jonathan Potter, Health Sciences Librarian, Riverpoint Campus Library, Eastern Washington University, is of value not only to the members of the MLA but to librarians in other spheres, to occupational therapists, to health professionals who work with them, to career counselors and academe in general, and to those interested in entering this very worthwhile field.

I lost a friend recently to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and I was very impressed by how much occupational therapists were able to improve her quality of life by devising a plethora of devices and simple solutions to the daily trials experienced by those with increasingly levels of disability. They helped her by such simple techniques as helping her learn how to use a pencil to turn the pages on her Kindle when using a finger became too hard for her and by using extenders for keys when they became harder and harder to handle. Potter's article is invaluable in that he not only provides us with an outstanding overview of the literature on the profession of occupational therapy but does a public service to the public in general by providing us all with insights into the noble calling of occupational therapy, thereby assisting those interested in entering it and patients and caregivers who may not have heretofore realized how much they could benefit from employing the services of occupational therapists.

Here are some other of the things I found edifying in Potter's article.

First of all, I have only recently joined the Nursing and Allied Health Resources Section (NAHRS) of the Medical Library Association and so was still somewhat unfamiliar with its Mapping the Literature of Allied Health Project of which Potter's article is a continuation. Kudos to NAHRS for spearheading this important project, which is a service not only to the MLA but to higher education in general. If I were a high school librarian or a community college career counselor I would be very grateful to be able to print out for students articles like Potter's so as to give bright kids authoritative overviews of occupations within the allied health and nursing fields. Perhaps NAHRS and the MLA could create a Web page for such audiences that would provide Open Access in a one-stop fashion to all of the articles in the Mapping the Literature of Allied Health Project. That would be outreach indeed.

Keep up the good work, NAHRS. You are  benefitting the wider community, particularly in a time in our paradoxical world in which certain fields need new entrants (occupational therapy needs more men, for instance) and when jobs in general are hard to find in this dismal economy.

Kudos, too, to Potter's institution, Eastern Washington University, for facilitating this outstanding contribution to the scholarly literature. Potter's article will become a reference point in occupational therapy, allied health and nursing, and health sciences librarianship for years to come.

A second aspect of Potter's article that I found quite interesting was the historical background he provides about the development of the ethos of the profession as laid down in 1922 by A. Meyer in the article "The Philosophy of Occupation Therapy." Potter writes, "That present day occupational therapists continue to return to Meyer's 1922 essay is a testament to the depth and power of Meyer's vision and of his eloquence in articulating it." This was new to me and really quite fascinating, as was Potter's discussion of the frustration that occupational therapists can experience in explaining what occupational therapy is. Potter writes, "This recurring need to define and explain the basic parameters of the field is often accompanied by ambivalence or exasperation, but just as often by a sense of professional pride in the core identity of occupational therapy, rooted in a dynamic and vital history that informs and continues to help define present day practice. Although the current study does not examine the frequency of citations down to the level of particular journal articles, one such reference stood out in the data, namely, the seminal essay by Meyer, "The Philosophy of Occupation Therapy..."

A third aspect of Potter's article that I found interesting was his point that after a downturn in the occupational therapy profession in the 1990s the field has recently experienced a resurgence given the interest in the deployment of occupational therapy techniques in the treatment of autism-spectrum disorders and given the invigorating effects of the evidence-based healthcare movement.

A fourth aspect of Potter's article that was quite interesting is that more and more references are to journal articles rather than to books, which Potter partly attributes to the rise of Open Access journals and to the ease of access to electronic journals generally. (It will be interesting to see if the rise of print on demand and the rise of the e-book will lead to a greater number of citation to books in coming decades.) Potter makes the fascinating point that as backfiles become digitized older articles are actually being cited surprisingly frequently these days. Potter's article is full of such astute points about scholarly publishing and research methods these days even for those who are not primarily interested in occupational therapy. He makes clear, too, that "greater value is being placed on interdisciplinary collaboration and connections between disparate realms of knowledge." His own article is an exemplar of that trend, given that he is a health sciences librarian writing about the field of occupational therapy. He also writes beautifully. I look forward to future work by him.

One quibble (there had to be one, right?) I have is with Potter's use of the term, "developing open source journal movement." Open Access is quite different from Open Source. "Open Access" should be used here. Open Source has to do with computer coding. Open Access has to do with journal publishing.

All in all, though, this is an incredibly detailed, comprehensive look at an important field. Potter's article is a credit to JMLA, the MLA, Eastern Washington University, and Potter himself. We of the PNC of are proud of him!

And, just to continue to nag my fellow members of our beloved PNC to consider following Potter's example of publishing in JMLA I would just like to point out that the August issue the MLA News has the item "Help to Build the Knowledgebase: Contribute a Review to the Journal of the Medical Library Association" by Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Starr. She writes,

"I expect that many of our readers would enjoy reading more reviews in the JMLA. The good news is that, as librarians, we are well equipped to write them. We automatically turn to the literature for answers. We know how to systematically search for, and organize, literature or information. So, the next time you start looking for literature on a professional topic or sending emails to colleagues to find out how they are handling a particular problem, I encourage all of you to consider going a step further and turning your search into a literature or state-of-the-art review. Synthesize what you have found, identify the gaps in knowledge that require more investigation, and share your knowledge with your peers. We have a journal to be proud of, and you can make it better."

Details on the journal can be found here.

Go for it, group! Jonathan Potter has set the pace!

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