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True Tales of Technology Improvement

by Jane Saxton
Director of Library Services
Bastyr University
Kenmore, WA

“We live forward, but we understand backward.”

-William James

This is the True Story of what happened when we received an NN/LM PNR Technology Improvement Award.


It was love at first sight when I met the portable library system at the 2008 Regional Academic Health Sciences Libraries (RAHSL) meeting at Oregon Health & Science University. Todd Hannon, OHSU reference librarian, handled the introductions to the system, which included a laptop, a tiny but high-resolution LCD projector, a table-top projection screen, and other portable paraphernalia.

I am the director of library services for Bastyr University, a non-profit educational institution in Seattle offering B.S., M.S. and clinical doctorate degrees in programs relating to the natural health sciences. Our campus is located in St. Edward State Park in Kenmore, WA, in the former St. Thomas Seminary at the northern end of Lake Washington. Our teaching clinic is in the Fremont district of Seattle, about twelve miles south, but frequently up to an hour away. (Anything you may have heard about Seattle traffic is true.)

At the time that I met the portable library system, Susan Banks, librarian, and I were using the laptop and LCD projector that Student Council had purchased five years previously–for student use. (We hoped that when we needed the equipment to teach a class, it would be available.) Presenting library training sessions for our clinical faculty was difficult because they are mostly there—at the clinic in Seattle—and we are mostly here—on campus in Kenmore.

After returning from the RAHSL meeting, I applied for and received an NN/LM PNR Technology Improvement Award to purchase our very own portable library system. We selected, ordered and received the equipment. (Each of these stages brought their own little hubbubs of decision-making and excitement.) And we started doing outreach to our faculty almost immediately. We now make presentations with our portable library system at faculty meetings, both on campus and at the clinic, and regularly attend departmental meetings to profile what’s new. Our faculty members are particularly taken with our projection screen, which sits comfortably on the end of a table.

The ideas for outreach sessions (other than for Bastyr-affiliated folks) that we considered at that time revolved around our external clinical shift sites. These include many local clinics and health centers, some foc

using on minority populations. If such locations seem like “naturals” for setting up a portable library system to help the people there to find just the information they need, that’s how it seemed to us too. However, the reality of this plan proved challenging (i.e. well-nigh impossible). I can sum up this part of the story with something I learned in a continuing education class last March, Data Collection for Health Information Outreach, taught by NN/LM stars Susan Barnes and Maryanne Blake. They stated the obvious: people who come to a clinic are often ill and don’t want a helpful librarian just then. It’s not a teachable moment! This was the first bump in the road for our outreach plans.

In rethinking the matter, we decided that our expertise might best be utilized in providing outreach to our librarian colleagues. The upshot is that we are offering a two-hour session on evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (EB-CAM) for the medical librarian community, and a more general session on CAM for the King County Library System reference librarians. These sessions are scheduled for Sunday, November 15 (1:00-3:30 on the Bastyr campus) and November 19 at KCLS headquarters in Issaquah. (As an indication of how supportive our NN/LM PNR can be, Gail Kouame, Consumer Health Coordinator, is partnering with us on the KCLS session.)

But here’s the problem. Neither of these venues requires a portable library system! On the other hand, we would never have developed these outreach sessions had we not received the Technology Improvement Award.

And that’s OK, because technology opens doors—we look forward to walking through the ones that our portable library system opens, setting up our laptop and the snazzy little LCD, and unpacking our projection screen from its handy “bow-and-arrow” case, to help people find the very information that they need.

Susan Banks and Jane Saxton posing with their portable projection equipment.

Susan Banks and Jane Saxton posing with their portable projection equipment.

NN/LM PNR is planning to offer another round of $5000 Technology Improvement Awards. Watch for a Call for Proposals next month.

5 Responses to “True Tales of Technology Improvement”

  1. Kathy Murray Says:

    Will you be able to demo your portable library system on Sunday, even if you don’t need to use it??

  2. Jane Saxton Says:

    Kathy, we will be using components of the portable library system, and will be posting a photo of its holistic self (i.e. the entire system) soon. Thx for asking. See you Sunday!

  3. Hope Leman Says:

    Hi, Jane. First of all, this a charming account. Very engagingly written—you ought to win an essay prize for it.

    It is also an edifying case study for those considering applying for an Technology Improvement Award and I enjoyed hearing about what you have learned by interacting with all our colleagues (how we will miss Maryanne Blake!).

    And as someone who has worked on a project funded by an award from the NN and as someone interested in grants and other funding opportunities, I found it really fascinating to hear about the genesis of your application and what you learned along the way.

    I found this a key point and important lesson. “…people who come to a clinic are often ill and don’t want a helpful librarian just then.”

    The Technology Improvement Award is an important program and it is interesting to read what awardees do with the funding.

    Nicely done.

  4. Jane Saxton Says:

    Hope–thank you sincerely for your comments. I had fun writing the piece–and learned SO MUCH in developing the outreach sessions. These awards are very much win-win. Jane

  5. Dr. Elaine Ferguson Says:

    The portable library system offers a great opportunity to provide communities with much needed health information. This is a model that can be implemented nationally.