Chief Public Health Officer offers CHN postmortem

Okay, who has seen this? (Non-OA)

Butler-Jones D. (2008). Streamlining How We Deliver Public Health Information Online: From CHN to PHAC. The Serials Librarian, 55 (4): 625-627. DOI: 10.1080/03615260802282559

It came to me via the CANMEDLIB listserv, so I’m sure some of you who have access to to journal have also linked into it and taken a peek.

In the article, Dr. David Butler-Jones, first (and thus far only) Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, assures librarians that the closing of the Canadian Health Network (CHN) is not a loss, but

“rather, a change that consolidates resources and information into one website, that of the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

According to Butler-Jones, the primary reason for termination of the CHN was that

“The decision was made to incorporate some CHN materials into the Public Health Agency’s website to better reach both that professional audience [“teachers, health care providers, public health professionals and more”] as well as the general public.” (emphasis mine)

This, naturally, brings up the question of usage stats.  My understanding is that 40% of the CHN users were health professionals, although I’m not sure who all that includes and who the other 60% were. Is it teachers who were not using the CHN, but rather the PHAC?  The general public?  Some specific groups of health care providers?

I’d love to know who the users of PHAC are and who they were a year ago as well. It’s unclear from the Serials Librarian article which audience is considered to have been affiliated with which site, and whether those groups/individuals formerly using the CHN are thought to have actually migrated their use to the PHAC now. (I know I’m sure not; I have become reliant on the NLM’s MedlinePlus for most searches that would previously have been done first on the CHN. You?)

The secondary reason was that the PHAC website is “better equipped” than the CHN to take advantage of today’s online information searches, which use “advanced search engines.”

What do you think this one means?  Does PHAC have better metadata on its webpages than the CHN did? (The PHAC webpages I checked out do have rather sexy metadata, I must say.)  Are the webpages more accessible? More bandwidth to handle higher hit counts? A deal with Google to up pagerank? I’d love to know what this means, personally, so I can think about whether I think it’s a good reason to scrap rather than reform a website.

A third reason Butler-Jones lists as “[a]nother reality at play” was the necessity of making cuts to departmental budgets within government.

Ah, well, this is the one that has been discussed from the beginning.  In fact, this is the only reason we were getting back when things were actually going down. I still have not heard any official answer as to where the funds to launch the new (and relatively vapid) Healthy Canadians website came from, right when the CHN was being axed…have you?

We know the search mechanisms/indexing on the PHAC, Healthy Canadians, and Health Canada websites are inferior to that on the old CHN for consumer health research, and this is likely to be especially so for certain “hot” (controversial) topics. (Go ahead – try it!  And do let me know what you searched for and how the search went on the various sites.) We don’t know whether there is any interest in this matter on the part of the government, or any planning to address this on the PHAC site.

I am curious to know how much of the CHN content has now or will eventually be rolled into the PHAC website.  I know some of it has been appearing, but I believe there is also some that will not migrate. Anyone know more about this transition plan?

Butler-Jones asserts that the CHN and PHAC websites had the same goal and it was financially irresponsible to continue to maintain both sites. He alludes to better systems “in the end” without mentioning when that end will come or what the plan is for getting us there. And he thanks all of those who helped build the CHN, stating that he hopes

“the Public Health Agency of Canada can count of your continued involvement and support.”

Because, um, why wouldn’t health librarians want to pour time and effort into a new website when the one they’d spent the past decade nurturing into a success was just slashed?

As Andre Picard stated last December,

“The [CHN] affiliates don’t need hollow praise, they need cold hard cash to keep the much-needed service up and running.”

And now? Health librarians and information specialists still don’t need hollow praise. They need to be actively and seriously consulted and listened to when national health information infrastructure is being developed. I know sometimes hard questions about resources and budget cuts must be made; however I’m probably not alone in my appreciation of transparency, honesty, and consultation.

Are any of you library/info types out there who use to work on the CHN now working on the PHAC? If so, what are you doing and how is it going?  Is it same thing/different URL, or are there differences in the type of information you are providing now?  What library & information specialists is the PHAC consulting in order to provide accessible information and improve usability? I’m curious!

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