Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On the shelf

As part of my university's employee wellness plan, I attend two classes per six weeks on health topics. Some of this year's classes have discussed depression, personal finance, time management, weight control, and so forth.

Today I went to the second class of this six week period, listed as "Mayo Clinic Personal Health." When I arrived, there was a table of large softback books; everyone picked one up while entering the classroom.

Turns out the class was simply an introduction to this book -- a basic reference book on health, containing self-tests, timetables for various vaccinations and checkups, information on common disorders, and so forth. It's a nice book, don't get me wrong. I will rarely turn down a free book. But it made me wonder about reference books like this in general. If I had a medical question, I would never think to scan my shelf and pull down a book. I would go to WebMD -- or maybe just to Google.

Is there still a place in this world for reference books? I love them, personally. I have been known to spend hours browsing through them. Some that are wonderfully specialized and have a distinct point of view are unlikely to be replaced by any website, or by the web as a whole. But basic home health? Is a book really the best way to convey that information anymore? This is an area where currency is highly prized; where searchability is key because only a page or two contains the relevant information at that moment; where you might want to have more details than the all-purpose summary at your fingertips. Yes, you might not want to wade through Google search results that will mix quick facts with in-depth or specialized presentation. But there are a number of popular and comprehensive websites that already exist to provide exactly the the same service as the Mayo Clinic book -- and arguably, to provide it with more of the features we're looking for when we need this information.

Other than working during a power outage, or accessibility for those who have no internet at home or work, I can't think of any reason to choose a book for this task. But maybe I'm missing something. What say you?

1 comment:

doafy said...

There is something I trust more about a book than a website. I've whipped myself into a hypochondriac frenzy many times via WebMD, but I somehow manage to stay calm when looking things up in a medical reference book. I think it's that other, not always relevant, information is also staring you in the face. Something about that keeps me from being convinced that gas pains are appendicitis.