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2010 MARCH–APRIL No. 373
April 21, 2010 [posted]

NLM® to Discontinue Support of MedlinePlus® Go Local

On February 18, 2010, the National Library of Medicine® (NLM) announced to its partners that it would be discontinuing support for MedlinePlus Go Local (Go Local), and phasing the project out this year. NLM and Regional Medical Library staffs are working with the projects to determine the next steps for each of these sites. Go Local was created in partnership with libraries and library consortia to connect users of MedlinePlus to health services in their local communities and directs users of the Go Local Web sites to MedlinePlus health information.

For approximately ten years, NLM provided infrastructure support and minimal start-up funding to create and maintain Go Local projects around the United States. In 2001, Go Local was an exciting new service and many organizations around the country accepted the challenge of building and promoting local sites and providing what many considered a natural extension to existing library services. It was a service that our partner organizations supported and promoted to the extent possible, even with limited resources. Many Go Locals gained support from state and university officials and funding from external resources. Go Local sites, over thirty in number, provided excellent outreach services, opportunities for partnerships, and greater visibility for libraries in the local community. However, while a few Go Local sites managed to maintain an atmosphere of success, there were always concerns expressed by staff at the sites and at NLM, regarding the amount of staff time required to maintain each site, low use at many sites, the inability of some sites to keep records current, shrinking library budgets that resulted in fewer resources to support and sustain sites, and NLM inability to increase funding levels due to a tight federal budget.

In late 2009 and early 2010, NLM staff and Go Local partners began to examine the situation. The group did an environmental scan, identified goals and strategies, looked at use statistics, and had conference calls with the Go Local sites. The goals of the examination and subsequent recommendations were to find ways to decrease the level of effort required to maintain the sites while increasing the usefulness of Go Local to the public. In the end, the group could not find any recommended actions to reduce staff and maintenance efforts that would not involve a lot of up front work for site managers and NLM staff, with no guarantee that the efforts would increase usage.

Most importantly, we looked at the Go Local competition. In today's Internet environment, there are many comparable resources to an Internet health services directory such as Go Local. Internet search engines that people use daily, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, bring a wide range of health services listings to users, and many offer added value that Go Local cannot. These sites list provider-level directory information and can collect user reviews. Today's health insurance sites give insured users local practice details, such as hours, languages, fees, and quality ratings based on provider or facility performance measures that would require too much labor-intensive manual collection for Go Local to provide, but that our users have said they want in a health services site. Lastly, analysis of the use data revealed that those who do visit Go Local choose not to return, share with a friend, or bookmark the resource.

NLM staff at all levels wished this program could be reinvigorated and sustained, but the usage data were compelling. There was no choice but to cease its support gradually. Today’s Internet resources have surpassed what was an exceptional idea in 2001. Many sites are struggling to keep current; and data show that even strong outreach efforts yield relatively low use in return.

NLM thanks the hundreds of people who worked hard to build MedlinePlus Go Local, shared its many successes, and demonstrated the strength of the medical library community. A few sites have already chosen to close down, and more are planning to do so in the next few months. Some sites are creating their own local Web pages of health services for their users. This summer, NLM will remove all links to Go Local from the MedlinePlus Web site, and we expect to cease all Go Local support by the end of this year.

By Lori J. Klein
Reference and Web Services Section

Klein LJ. NLM® to Discontinue Support of MedlinePlus® Go Local. NLM Tech Bull. 2010 Mar-Apr;(373):e18.

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