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Importance and Impact: Reflection on MWC MLA

By Allyson Mackay
University of Michigan School of Information
Ann Arbor, MI

In early October I was fortunate enough to receive a library student outreach award from the Greater Midwest Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and attend the Midwest Chapter Conference in East Peoria, Illinois. After a whirlwind weekend in East Peoria, I can safely say that these awards are of great importance and impact to aspiring medical librarians and library students. As I am sure many of you know, graduate students are not swimming in pools of cash.

The cold winds and blue skies along the Illinois River welcomed me to my first full day of meetings, posters, presentations, and a seemingly unending buffet of food and coffee (no complaints).. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of posters and presentations at the conference. Instead of gushing about all of them in this blog post, I will highlight a few that really spoke to me and left an impact on how I view libraries and the evolving role of the medical librarian. Or should that be health sciences librarian?

From networking with poster presenters and listening to engaging presenters, I learned a great deal. I found out about how MLA members planned concurrent sessions across the globe for the MLA 2013 meeting, how librarians are integrating themselves into the medical curriculum, especially family medicine, at Northeast Ohio Medical University, and about citation metrics from Wayne State University.

The librarians from Wayne State did simple name/institution searches in both Scopus and Web of Science revealing that there are considerable differences in the citation metrics generated. The implications of this are far reaching in academia since citation metrics are given increasing importance in tenure and employment. In addition to simply making the point that not all technological tools are of equal caliber, the poster emphasized the importance of knowing the subtleties behind each search engine and the results generated. This is where having a librarian who recognizes these subtleties become extremely important, if not essential. As institutions and libraries in particular, are increasingly faced with budget cuts and the need to justify their worth, I found this poster to be good evidence to keep librarians and increase their engagement within the institution.

Sunday morning presentations were also very enlightening and I appreciated the quick 15-minute format. I was able to remain attentive to each presenter and really capture what each had to say. From learning about how librarians are working with physicians to enhance a clinical support system using GIS at Indiana University School of Medicine, to librarians and nurses teaming up to provide tailored patient information and education via in-room digital media screens at Gundersen Health System to using Six Sigma, a business style quality improvement model, to evaluate and improve four main librarian responsibilities at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, there are big things happening in health science libraries in the Midwest and librarians are charting the course.

There was one pilot project at a health science library in the midwest that really intrigued me and stood out as an example of the direction library outreach could be and should be moving in the future.This librarian is working with urology department, the clinical side of the EMR, and the patient portal of the EMR to provide patient education materials directly to patient. The librarian looks at what the physician or clinician has noted for the patient and then searches the literature and provides this literature to the patient. This is a new role for librarians in delivering quality medical information to consumers. It is a new direction in outreach where librarians are directly looped into the clinical visit of patients and seen as important providers of health information to patients. The patient portal set-up at this library allows for one-on-one interaction between the librarian and the patient, thus strengthening the relationship between the librarian and the patient. As health science librarians (and library students), we are well aware of the flood of information available and the need to evaluate that information by our patrons. In this project, the librarian steps into that mediating role and sifts the information, providing access to health information and also teaching and empowering patients to become health literate consumers. The struggle that librarians will have is accessing EMRs due to concerns of privacy and security but libraries have always fought to protect patron privacy and security long before HIPAA. With access, we can prove to the clinicians that there is a role for us in healthcare delivery and outreach services within a clinical setting will be transformed.

Other opportunities for outreach in the future will be tailored delivery of patient information like what is happening at Gundersen Health Systems. Librarians are working with nurses to help them create plain-language, age and culturally appropriate materials for their patients. It’s innovative and informative at the same time and has a very attractive aesthetic. We will need to think outside of the box with library outreach. Embedded community librarians who serve the need for consumer health information and empower consumers to be more active in the delivery of health care can be transformative to underserved and historically underinvested neighborhoods.

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