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Massage School Librarian Tells His Story of Growth and Relevance

Kenneth Pfaff, Librarian at the Grotto Library of the Cortiva Institute in Seattle, continues our series on librarians and advocacy for our contest to recognize National Medical Librarians Month. Other entries will be featured later in the month of October.

Be Vital or Be a Museum Exhibit

I know history, and about my forebears, in addition to being a healthcare librarian for Massage Therapists.  I can tell you from historical perspective that any profession that failed to provision for and support its depositories of knowledge ended up with only the consolation prize; an exhibit in a natural history museum.  Mad Hatters, anyone?

Massage Therapy as a form of medicine has a very long history, and can be found in practically every culture.  Despite that long history, a concerted effort to conceptualize and structure a true Body of Knowledge began only five years ago.  Because I know a bit of history, I’ll tell you about The Grotto Library historically.  This library was literally created from the remnants of a simple 4’x8’ wooden box at a long-time Massage Therapy school in Seattle.  The overarching institution integrated with another competitive school a few blocks away, which itself had a small, neglected room with a few hundred books.  Whereas the institution wanted the library to be, they had no plan or time or strategy.  The simple mandate was “to take care of the library, and by the way, there’s no budget.”

That was 2008.

From barely 400 books and some magazines, The Grotto Library now maintains nearly thirteen percent of the world’s possible resources for Massage Therapy (donation drives for the win).  I scoured the online world of libraries looking for best practices, better mechanics and organizations.  I created an online catalog and website right away.  I had no budget, so that was self-funded.  Also from that search, from watching instructors in classes and students asking for more information in different modes, I developed a downloadable Internet browser-based Toolbar with the help of a third party vendor called Conduit.  This Toolbar aggregates online links to our periodicals, medical animations, videos, the library’s online catalog and the catalogs of several others to boot.

With that Toolbar in place and available for library patrons to download for themselves, I actively pinged one of our research instructors – I wanted to present the new library during classes.  He liked that idea, and the feedback from that class at term’s end showed a remarkable improvement in their acceptance of research as more approachable (as it can get).

Part of my strategy was to be as mobile as the people I intended to help, and although that meant the intuitive leap to mobile app as an tool, my strategy was about helping graduates in their practices.  The former schools allowed graduates to use their respective libraries, but didn’t allow for anything other than a reading room.  I altered that philosophy so that graduates had regular access to their library for the rest of their lives.  I also wanted to help the employers of our graduates by granting them access to the library’s services too.  Electronic, peer-reviewed periodical access was another benefit I added.  I wrapped that into a basic mobile app for all platforms, and then added the online catalog search to it.

Our school was already on the forefront of Massage Therapy research by actively introducing students to peer-review and case study information as part of the curriculum.  Since 2005, our students have won Gold, Silver or Honorable Mentions in practically every Student Case Report Contest provided by the non-profit Massage Therapy Foundation.  Unfortunately, graduates from years past had little context for massage research; I had to introduce that as part of the library’s dialogue.  I extracted periodical articles that spoke about research and massage.  By sending these out to our graduates, I slowly geared them up by asking and answering: 1) yes, there was a new library system they could use, 2) research isn’t a scary thing, and 3) here’s how the library wants to impact their practice.  This little push was the start of a larger-scale endeavor I was planning for the next year.   Before 2008, we barely saw graduates.  With this new effort, we saw or heard from graduates a lot.

I increased the exposure of the library by adding a new program called Author Spotlights.  I would invite authors of this profession to give a talk to our population, and that has drawn many graduates back to the school.

That was 2009.

Students need to know a lot anatomy.  They feel it under their hands, but being able to see it visually (or three-dimensionally) was something I wanted for them.  The National Library of Medicine, of course, had the Visible Human Project.  I applied and was granted full access to both the male and female data set (18,000 images of two cadavers, centimeter by centimeter).  Obtaining the data was easy.  Integrating it into the curriculum was easy.  Making the data available on library computers wasn’t so easy.  Turns out, old computers and new, large format files don’t mix well together.  I contacted a third party vendor called CoolIris about their fancy scrolling wall application.  Very soon, our old computers could display hundreds of images in a scrolling wall akin to scrolling apps on a mobile phone, at a reasonable speed.

Part of the overall strategy from Day One (which was scanning ISBNs into the catalog, oh how I remember that well) was to create a Library-in-a-Can model that could easily be replicated across the eleven other campuses of the institution.  I submitted a five year proposal that would actively alter those basic libraries (boxes of books is some cases) to be fully functional branch libraries; I would be their Head Librarian.  The proposal included a year-by-year plan to acquire books and access our digital periodicals here in Seattle.  I intended to push the entire Visible Human Project to each campus as well.

Massage Therapists are the third-most licensed healthcare profession in Washington State, and only the third if you lump all physicians and surgeons into one group.  They have access to Heal-WA, and I became an advocate for that.  I can’t tell you how many faculty or graduates have stopped by hoping to get a journal article from there.  I tell them I can’t do it myself, but here’s how they can do it for themselves using the handy front page search field.  “What do you mean you haven’t logged in before?  Tsk, tsk.  Did you know there are a ton of ebooks and even some CE there too?”

That was 2010.

For graduates, however, who aren’t so conveniently located within a few miles of the library, I had to plan for their predilection to move about in the United States willy nilly.  Having access to the various campus libraries nationwide wasn’t sufficient enough, by my way of thinking, to qualify as a baseline.  With a slight poke at my institution to get them moving, I submitted an application to the network of the National Library of Medicine.  Of course, that was accepted.  I wanted our graduates to be able to reasonably access other healthcare libraries wherever they ended up practicing, and so the NN/LM provided more than a few extra perks.

Those perks included very handy library evaluations and reporting tools.  Very handy!  For every $1.00 spent by my institution (now that I can show objectively that I really, truly need and want a larger budget), the return to the institution and patrons is $6.45.  Our three major contributors towards Value of Resources and Services are: 1) books and periodicals, 2) articles accessed and 3) computer-use.  Following in close fourth place was the Toolbar being downloaded and utilized (which we quantified as $25 per based on costs from Toolbar uses in other industries).

Fifty three percent of students in the 2011 summer term said the library had a major contribution to completing assignments and finding information (reported a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5), whereas only three percent said it had only a minor contribution (reported a 1).  Eighty four percent felt the library helped them achieve academic excellence (reported 3 to 5 on that same scale) in this summer term; 81% in spring term 2011.

The year 2011 draws to a close.

The Visible Human Project is now on its way to each campus even as I write this.  The Toolbar has over a 1,000 downloads.  I see every research-based class each term, whether presenting the Librarian’s Perspective on Research to basic research students, to a full-on field trip to the library for the entire class.  I’m assisting the Massage Therapy Foundation with the establishment of a Toolbar of their own.  There’s a possibility that an additional ten schools unrelated to our institution may want to integrate under the library and library system I created.  So far, I and The Grotto Library directly serve the accrediting requirements for four schools, and may well serve twenty-two by the end of next year.

What else?  I now have a volunteer Library Advisor, a graduate of our program, to assist me in collection and re-describing materials into ‘therapist-speak’.  Although my larger institution couldn’t move fast enough to meet the deadline because of competing needs, I had intended to submit a subcontract proposal to the NN/LM to create a Professional Massage Therapist Mentorship Program as part and parcel of the library’s mission:

  • To support Massage Therapists’ professional education
  • To enhance research endeavors
  • To help maintain safe and efficacious client care

What else?  Even as students sign-up for school, I am there with a handy Welcome Kit (PDF by email) giving them some library factoids, and fun anatomy and physiology online games to play while they wait for their term to start.  I consider that one piece of my active part in the school’s retention policy.  I introduced the idea of a musculoskeletal anatomy and massage class (MAM) as an additional pre-schooling activity, and volunteer to help the instructor each time.  ‘Academics’ hasn’t always been a good experience for some, and if there is a symbol of academics, it would be the library.  I don’t want people to be afraid of the library by association.  By volunteering in the MAM class, I hope to put a smiling, approachable face to anyone who may feel that way.  Do they even know what a librarian does?  They do after that class.

I am still the Patron of the library, sometimes funding projects our institution can’t, but always looking out for free resources.  I’m amazed at what can be found for free, and not having a large budget is necessity’s mother.  That’s about it then.

Let’s see what 2012 brings.

3 Responses to “Massage School Librarian Tells His Story of Growth and Relevance”

  1. Kathy Fatkin Says:

    I am amazed and humbled. Thanks for sharing this incredible story!

  2. Heidi Sue Adams Says:

    Ken, thank you very much for taking the time to share this story! This is incredible! And very enlightening as well as inspirational! Yes, let’s see what wonderful things 2012 brings you and your library endeavors.

  3. Ken Pfaff Says:

    Hey thanks Kathy and Heidi! I heard from a librarian in Idaho as well, so let’s help each other under this NN/LM banner. Libraries are evolving, not disappearing (despite what some nay-sayers think about how great the Internet is). I mean, honestly, look at the Occupy Wall Streeters. After getting up to speed with sanitation and food and general living on public spaces for an unknown period of time, what’s the very next thing they did? They set up libraries. Libraries are a human condition.