In October of 2009, I left my position in Resource Sharing at the Health Sciences & Human Services Library at the University of Maryland to join the Regional Medical Library team just a couple of floors up in the same building. As the new Community Outreach Coordinator, I was to fill Mandy Bayer-Meloy’s shoes. Many of you in the Region had the pleasure of working with my predecessor, Mandy, so can imagine what a daunting idea that was.
In my first week as a new RMLer, I attended the MLA Southern Chapter meeting in Memphis. I want to thank you all now for being so kind to me when I didn’t even know what my job was – Southern hospitality at its finest. Since that time, I’ve learned a great deal – about my job, of course, but even more about the Region and what works best when doing health outreach for our consumers.
I work mainly with community and faith-based groups – nonprofits, volunteer organizations, and health ministries. It’s very rewarding to work with this group of people who give of their limited time and resources so freely in an effort to help their communities. Some of the communities I visit are the poorest of the poor, yet the community leaders and volunteers feel so fortunate in life that they want to give back. It’s a great lesson in the importance of gratitude, no matter what.
NN/LM SE/A has basically 3 outreach avenues: exhibiting, funding and teaching. In my position, I man the exhibit booth at consumer health shows, design and teach classes related to consumer/minority health, and monitor assigned NN/LM SE/A funded outreach projects. My 2-year education has provided these insights:
- Pace the tchotchkes! If you put all of the pens out at the beginning, no one will be lured to your booth later in the day.
- Remind people that they own the National Library of Medicine and all of its resources. It gets their attention.
- There really is no dumb idea. If you think a Health Research Computer can be installed at the local beauty salon and people will use it, let’s talk.
- Never go into a consumer health class to tell people what their community needs.
- Never leave a consumer health class without asking what their community needs.
Of those three aspects of my job, I’ve evolved in my approach to teaching the most. I now discuss more than lecture and I often ask more questions than are asked of me. I’ve also added health disparities, health literacy and cultural competency components to most of my classes. Because so many of the groups I work with consist of “special populations” like racial and ethnic minorities and senior citizens, I am passionate about reducing the health disparities that exist between their communities and those of more fortunate Americans. Improving health literacy is a huge component in affecting such social change.
Over the course of the next five years of our contract, some of the plans I have in store are:
- Creating and promoting new classes:
- Immigrant Health
- Nutrition Across the Lifespan
- Health, Wellness and the Pursuit of Happiness (which addresses the strong link between a person’s happiness and health)
- Creating outreach partnership models that can be easily duplicated – based on successful projects. The first will be based on a health ministry model.
- Facilitating introductions between health outreach enthusiasts throughout the Region that have complementary needs and resources – as requested and also via advertised web summits.
As I head into my third year on the job, I look forward to working with all of you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or ideas – I’d love to hear from you.
Community Outreach Coordinator
(410) 706 2858