by Joan Colburn, MLIS, Library and Knowledge Services, MAHEC, Asheville, NC
In December of 2012 I invited my CEO, and another of our physicians, to tell me their designs and desires for library services. This was risky – these are two innovative, forward-thinking, high-energy individuals. I was geared up for out-of-the-box creative ideas.
We discussed many inventive options for information management and delivery, but something I had not expected came up – visually sharing information with mapping. This is not a new concept, of course, but is not typical for health sciences librarians, and certainly not a skill anyone in our library possessed. Thus, I thought I’d share our process and how we’ve used this helpful tool.
Years before becoming a librarian, I studied and worked in the field of medical geography, so I was enthusiastic about the idea. However, my experience with geographic systems was way before today’s sophisticated electronic mapping tools. I hired a local consultant for training in GIS – Geographic Information Systems, and we purchased the software ArcMap, made by ESRI.
Searching for and manipulating data for input to maps is very time-consuming. I’ve read that 75-80% of mapping is preparing the data for input, and I’ve found that to be the case for my efforts. Though the learning curve for getting up to speed with ArcMap was very steep, this complicated system allows the flexibility we need for creating maps with multiple attributes. And, the end results are incredibly satisfying, and useful tools.
How have we used GIS for displaying healthcare information? I’ve been asked to create a wide variety of maps, including maps of the healthcare safety net system in North Carolina – which demonstrated the regional variances in how the healthcare system has evolved in our state, maps showing the locations of our residency and fellowship graduates, and maps displaying Health Professional Shortage Areas and county Economic Tier status. Maps I’ve created have been used for planning, grant applications, and publications.
What started out as a dream service to possibly develop sometime in the future became a useful tool within a few months. Although learning new, complicated software was extremely challenging, the result is highly valued. Responses from my CEO have included “These are terrific!” and “Awesome! It tells an important story. “