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Highlights of Information Services Outreach for Rural and Frontier Nevada in 2012-2013!

by Terry Henner
Library Director
Savitt Medical Library
University of Nevada School of Medicine
Reno, NV

The title of one of Bob Dylan’s lesser known songs, Too Much of Nothing, serves as an apt description for Nevada. For in much of the state, we have a whole lot of nothing! The major population centers of Las Vegas and Reno are dwarfed by vast tracts of nearly empty space. The isolation in these sparsely populated rural and frontier regions poses significant challenges for the health care providers working there, not the least of which is in navigating the information landscape to obtain reliable health information. Fortunately, in 2012, the Savitt Medical Library received a cooperative outreach award from NN/LM PSR to establish the part-time position of Health Outreach Librarian. During the past year this position played a key role in helping to mitigate the impact of geographic isolation of health care workers, by providing information services support and training.

Our objectives in creating this position included:

  • Conducting a needs assessment to better address challenges of health information practice in rural areas.
  • Developing, through the activities of the Health Outreach Librarian, a mechanism for promoting online distance instruction methods, in the pursuit of training and educational goals.
  • Increasing the ability of the NN/LM to influence the effectiveness of health care services in rural and frontier Nevada.

Conducting a comprehensive audit of current practices, beliefs, and needs of rural practitioners was a critical first step in the process. We solicited input from over 300 rural clinicians using a 16-item online survey instrument, and supplemented this data with feedback from videoconferenced focus group discussions. Results indicated, for example, that practice guidelines and evidence-based summaries were among the most sought after resources, and that desktops still far outweighed tablets or smartphones as the preferred platform for searching. We also confirmed a widespread need for instruction and support. Findings from respondents revealed that roughly half had never been to our library website and were unaware of the services we could provide them, and 80% had never received any training in searching PubMed. Rural practitioners appear eager to participate in interactive webinars as a means to receive training, and over 40% would take advantage of webinar opportunities to build information seeking skills. Asynchronous online tutorials and online independent learning exercises were seen as a much less desirable option.

Given the challenges of working with such a geographically disparate group, it became clear that it would take some time for our outreach efforts to generate momentum and bear fruit. Once the necessary assessment groundwork was in place, however, we were ready to address resource development and training for our target population. Our first efforts went into constructing a clearinghouse of resources useful for rural practitioners, maintained on our LibGuides CMS platform. Our next aim, under development, is delivery of a webinar-based series of CME accredited courses for rural practitioners using our library’s webinar software platform, ReadyTalk.

We will be building on our foundational steps in the coming year through an extension of this outreach project. By creating a new, key member of the professional team to focus on rural needs, we have for the first time a clear understanding of the types of services and instructional programs that will be most beneficial, and an improved capacity to deliver new and more effective support programs!

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