Inspiring People in our Region: Brenda Linares, MLIS, AHIP Outreach Librarian and Coordinator of User Services Graduate AssistantsThursday, April 2nd, 2015
“…by reaching a small group of people, you have already made a difference.”
Brenda Linares, MLIS, AHIP
University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC
What is your position?
I serve as the Outreach Librarian and Coordinator of User Services Graduate Assistants at the Health Sciences Library at UNC Chapel Hill.
Is there something in your own personal story that led you to do the work you do?
As a Latina immigrant, I grew up with the experience of noticing the big digital divide and health disparities that impact the Latino community. When I became a medical librarian, I wanted to reach out to those communities affected by health disparities and make a difference with quality information. I know that well informed people will make better decisions about their lives; therefore, I felt that I could make a difference in someone’s life by providing the right information at the right time. Being a medical librarian has provided me with the opportunity to reach out to those communities with tools and health information that can help them improve their health.
What do you love most about your outreach work?
I love that I get to create new partnerships with diverse groups such as community colleges, public librarians, nursing homes, and community organizations. I can provide some assistance with pointing people towards authoritative health information and providing a tool for people to make better health choices. I love to see people’s faces light up when I show them helpful information in MedlinePlus (and their tax money at work)! It is always a rewarding feeling when I find someone information on a topic they are researching and it makes sense to them.
What is the biggest challenge in what you do?
I always wish I had more time to do outreach in the community. There is a lot of potential and also a great need to educate and reduce the health disparities impacting multiple minority groups. Because a lot of people have access to the Internet and mobile devices, we forget that there is still a big digital divide and that creates a challenge in how you can reach out to people. There is always the need for resources.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your work in terms of health outreach to your community’s underserved populations?
I love providing health information to people, especially when they find a page on their health topic! One of the best groups to work with is kids. They are sponges and you know that they listen to what you say to them. Kids are great listeners and love a challenge. I really enjoy showing them some of NLM’s interactive resources such as Tox Town and Tox Mystery! They love playing with Toxie and getting a certificate of completion at the end of the game. I also have seen kids show their parents the website and health information presented on MedlinePlus and even search for information for their parents. It’s great to feel like you can reach out to the parents and the kids at the same time.
What do you see as the biggest health concerns in the communities you serve?
When I was in Miami, one of the issues that stood out to me was how people assumed that everyone in Miami was rich and had access to health care. In our health fairs when we went to Key West for example, many of the locals do not have access to quality health care. For them the annual health fairs were their annual check-ups. At these health fairs, the medical students came to that area with free medical services. Therefore, the locals drove long distances to make sure they took advantage of that. The same happened in Broward County, which included Little Haiti. Southern Florida is a very diverse place with a mixture of all socio-economic status and diverse languages. In my current project with community colleges, I learned that in the academic setting, community colleges are left behind in terms of outreach and collaboration. That is why I am glad that NN/LM is taking extra steps of reaching out to this group. I have been able to meet with several community colleges librarians and can see there is a need to promote a lot of NLM’s resources and funding opportunities from the NN/LM.
How did you first come to know NN/LM SE/A?
I learned about the NN/LM when I was an NLM Associate Fellow in 2007. We had the chance to visit the RML office at the University of Maryland and learned about the funding opportunities for outreach projects and the importance of health literacy.
In what ways has NN/LM SE/A been of help to you?
I have been fortunate to have the RML provide funding for two major outreach projects that I have been involved with. My first project was doing outreach to free clinics and promoting MedlinePlus to the medical students who interacted with the patients. We were able to buy iPads that the students could use to interact with their patients and educate them on various personal health topics. The second project is the one with community colleges. We did an information needs assessment of the students and the faculty in nursing, geriatrics, and occupational therapy classes. We learned that students wanted interactive tools to learn the materials presented by their faculty and librarians. With this information, we decided to collaborate with two community colleges, Central Carolina Community College and Durham Technical Community College. We are working on creating two interactive modules that the librarians and professors can use with their classes to learn about evidence-based practice resources and consumer health information resources.
Can you share a success story about the impact of health outreach in your community?
I always remember doing the health fairs in southern Florida when I worked at the University of Miami. I loved working with the kids and showing them Tox Mystery! They loved Toxie and I enjoyed seeing the kids play the games and then the parents playing with the kids learning together about how to avoid toxins. The kids were always excited to get their certificate of completion when they were done with the game.
What advice would you give others who are interested in doing health outreach work in their communities?
First of all I would tell them that outreach is a very rewarding thing to do! Any ideas they might have can work! Health literacy is important and by reaching a small group of people you have already made a difference. Also I would tell them that the NN/LM funds all types of outreach projects that show that it will have a positive impact in the community. All ideas are welcome!
I would also advise people to learn more about the community they want to work with. They should know about their culture, language, environment, and other important aspects of that community that will help them create a partnership, collaboration, and relationship.