Four years ago, Liya Deng and I, at the time public service librarians at an academic library, thought about expanding library services beyond academia to include previously underserved and marginalized populations. From the NN/LM SE/A Public Health Coordinator at a library conference, we learned about the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region (NN/LM SE/A) and the funding opportunities available to its members. We decided to apply for one of those awards, leveraging Liya’s knowledge of government information resources and my instructional experience to reach out to economically challenged communities across the state of Georgia. We received our first State and Regional Exhibiting Award in spring 2010 and implemented the “Tips for a Healthy U” project promoting a healthy lifestyle and the use of reliable National Library of Medicine (NLM) electronic health resources to community members suffering from diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
What followed was a long-term relationship with NN/LM SE/A that resulted in three other health literacy and community outreach projects. So, four years later, in spring 2014, we found ourselves in a different setting (the University of South Carolina), in a different capacity (doctoral students), but still very much passionate about issues of health information literacy and improving lives of underprivileged or medically underserved community members. Our journey through the doctoral program at USC has led us to work closely with special needs populations, particularly children with developmental and learning disabilities, and we have seen the need to provide access to reliable authoritative health information for such children, their parents, and caregivers. In March 2014, we applied for the NN/LM SE/A Express Mobile Technology Project Award aimed at enhancing the accessibility of health information to South Carolina families affected by autism.
Once the funding was secured, we began developing partnerships with local autism advocacy organizations, such as the Autism Academy of South Carolina and the South Carolina Autism Society, to widen the scope of our project as far beyond the Columbia area as possible. The key to success for us has been in these collaborative efforts that resulted in an outreach initiative covering the entire state of South Carolina, from the coastal Low country to the Midlands region. The support from NN/LM SE/A enabled us to design health information literacy instruction sessions for the parents, service coordinators, and care providers of autistic children. We planned to teach our audiences how to use iPads or their own mobile devices while concentrating on such NLM resources as Mobile MedlinePlus, PubMed for Handhelds, and Drug Information Portal Mobile. Each training session involved live demos, discussions, and hands-on activities to allow the participants ample time to get familiar with the mobile devices and specific NLM mobile applications.
While the project is still underway, we have already seen great enthusiasm from our target communities, as well as the potential for replication and amplification, which was especially evident during a meeting with five regional autism office administrators at the South Carolina Division of Disabilities and Special Needs in Columbia, SC. The participants are to complete a pre- and post-session test to monitor their comprehension of the training content.
The highlight of the project has been our work with the staff and parent mentors of the South Carolina Autism Society. The diverse range of services offered by this organization will ensure the long-term sustainability of our efforts. The Society acts as the primary autism advocacy agency in our region and focuses on providing quality education and support to enable each individual living with autism to reach their maximum potential.
Providing adequate access to information resources on autism is an important part of care for nearly 70,000 people living with some form of this disorder in the state of South Carolina. Promoting awareness and the use of autism-related NLM mobile resources is one of the ways in which we, as information professionals, can help address one of the more fundamental needs of this special population, and we would be remiss not to continue work in this direction. We are appreciative of NN/LM SE/A’s support of our efforts and look forward to doing more to improve the quality of life of persons with special needs, both in our region and beyond.