“Be open to collaboration and going beyond the way you did things at your last institution.”
Katherine Kohler-Eastman, MLIS
Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine
Interim Director of Learning Resources
I am currently the Interim Director of Learning Resources for the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. I started as the librarian tasked with interlibrary loan and technical services, but stepped up when we found ourselves without a director. There’s a lot of change and upheaval in creating a new medical school. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Is there something in your own personal story that led you to do this work?
I had always planned to wind up in academics, though the original plan involved a PhD in Literature. During the senior year of my BA studies, I audited a graduate course that included guest lectures from visiting and local professors. After the academic librarian came in and gave his presentation, my plan changed.
My entry into medical librarianship took a more circuitous route. I did take the medical libraries class from Dr. MacCall at the University of Alabama, but then went into the private sector for a couple years. Providing almost exclusively health science reference service at my most recent library position opened my eyes. PubMed Clinical Queries, evidence-based medicine and genome studies – Are you kidding me? How amazing is medical literature research?! I felt excited when I accepted the position of Assistant Librarian here at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. The Interim Director position has been a completely new side of librarianship, but I’m looking forward to all of the great projects and innovations we have planned.
What do you enjoy most about your outreach work?
Well, right now it’s mostly in the planning stages. Helping to build a medical school from the ground up is exhilarating, but time consuming. The former director and I made plans to develop targeted consumer health presentations for the local public library on topics such as diabetes and age-related illness. The really exciting thing is that the school successfully applied for a grant to develop an interactive learning portal for students to use during their third and fourth years of medical training.The modules cover local health topics in Alabama and the surrounding area, and the hope is that it will help increase awareness of the health disparities in the communities where our students will be living and working.
What is the biggest challenge in what you do?
We’re a brand new medical college. That brings a lot of challenges, but also a lot of room for innovation and change. The biggest challenge for our students seems to be growing pains from the amount of technology they’re required to learn. Adapting to the Surface Pro, an almost-entirely electronic collection, electronic textbooks, electronic course delivery and electronic testing; that’s a lot of adaptation for a student to make. We even have electronic patients, though I suppose the preferred term is animatronic simulators. Medical education is overwhelming by itself without throwing technology into the mix, but I think the students are rising to meet the challenge exceptionally well.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your work in terms of working with the new medical school faculty and staff?
Excitement is infectious. The students, faculty and staff are brimming with so much enthusiasm that you can’t help but be swept away. Plus, it’s always nice to have the resources and assistance the library provides receive such a strong positive reaction. Usually getting instructors to adopt a new resource takes a fair bit of cajoling or strong-arming, but our faculty are really receptive to a lot of the point-of-care and anatomical resources we provide. I became a librarian because I like to help and I enjoy linking patrons with resources, so being able to do so and get such an enthusiastic response in return is very rewarding.
Can you say a few words about your fundraising efforts and how these efforts have served to enrich the library?
So far, the Southeast Alabama Medical Center Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Houston County Health Authority, supports most of the fund-raising efforts for the library and the college. They held a juried art show and auction, and the majority of the art on campus was donated through that event. Again, one of the great things about being a new school is there are always plans for further projects, collaboration and growth. In the future, I see the library taking a much larger role in fundraising efforts for the college.
Regarding strategy, how do you see your library’s services, products and staff changing over the next three years to meet customers’ needs? Secondly, do you see new opportunities for librarians “outside” of the library?
We’ve already had a fair bit of change. I see our products shifting to have a more clinical focus as students move into their third and fourth year of medical school, and then on into their graduate medical education. Staff-wise, I hope that we can move in a direction with even more of an embedded library presence in the curriculum. I hope to push for more integrated, informed learning style andragogy for health information resources and point-of-care products. There’s talk of expanding the number of staff to accommodate a clinical rounds role as well, which is fairly exciting.
What do you see as the biggest health concerns/obstacles in the communities served by the medical staff, librarians and students?
The college was really established to help reduce the current and projected shortage of primary care physicians in rural Alabama and the surrounding areas. The biggest health concern I see for the communities we serve, other than having almost 40% fewer doctors per capita than people who live in large cities or suburbs, are diabetes, heart disease, obesity and stroke.
How did you first come to know NN/LM SE/A?
During my onboarding. My first few weeks on campus I spent studying resources for topics I might have to cover in brown bag lunches and in the course of providing reference service and research assistance for students and faculty. I have a good half of the pages available on the SEA NN/LM website bookmarked in one folder or another. Barbara Shearer, who consulted on the library before any staff were hired, also strongly encouraged reaching out to the Southeastern/Atlantic Region of NN/LM.
In what ways has NN/LM SE/A been of help to you?
All of them? I found the training offered on DOCLINE immensely helpful in getting our college set up and active using SERHOLD. Plus, as I mentioned above, I’ve probably downloaded and worked through the course materials for twenty-five or thirty classes in the NN/LM SEA Training section. Now that I’ve stepped into a different role within the library, I’ve found that contacts I made initially have been lifesavers in navigating the responsibilities of a director.
Can you share a library success story about the impact of a particular work effort that was involved in the planning or operation of the medical school?
With a background as an instruction librarian, I’m proudest of the enthusiastic integration of library resources into a living curriculum. There are academic planning committees that meet weekly or biweekly and discuss how the curriculum can be modified to best serve our students. One key element of the curriculum is designated study assignments (DSAs) that send students traipsing through our collection and resources. Resources like LWW Health Library, Biodigital Human, Acland’s Atlas of Anatomy, Epocrates, Dynamed or Cochrane – that most schools leave it up to the students to discover – have become part of a vibrant and proactive curriculum. The amount of input and influence the library has over methods of information mastery is really amazing compared to other academic libraries where I’ve worked, and I’m hopeful that we can continue to integrate state-of-the-art information literacy instruction methodologies into even more aspects of the curriculum in a seamless and unobtrusive way.
What advice would you give other librarians who uniquely find themselves in the formative stages of bringing a fully accredited medical school to fruition?
Breathe. Be open to collaboration and going beyond the way you did things at your last institution. Reach out to members of your regional Medical Library Association and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine.
For further information, please contact PJ Grier at firstname.lastname@example.org