Regional Medical Libraries Making A Difference: Focus on New England Region

No matter where they live or work, health professionals, researchers and the public can access information from the National Library of Medicine thanks to its National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), consisting of more than 6,000 libraries coordinated by the NLM and supported by eight Regional Medical Libraries (RMLs). NLM in Focus is showcasing the libraries awarded contracts to serve as RMLs for 2011-2016.  In this article we introduce you to the people and projects of the New England Region (NN/LM NER).

Map of 8 Regional Medical LibrariesNew England is more than a geographical grouping of six states, (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire Rhode Island, and Vermont). It is a distinct, sharply defined region with historical and cultural traditions reaching back centuries. The people of New England, from the lobster fishermen of Maine and Rhode Island to the high tech commuters of metro-Boston and southern New Hampshire, confront the usual mix of health issues including diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease as well as such public health problems as the high teen pregnancy rates in many cities and towns.

The home of the NN/LM NER is the Lamar Soutter Library at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. NLM in Focus spoke with Elaine Martin, Director of NN/LM NER, Mary Piorun, Associate Director, Donna Kafel, e-Science Project Coordinator, and Michelle Eberle, Consumer Health Information Coordinator.

NLM in Focus: Describe what makes your region unique and interesting?

There are many different communities and populations in New England. The region is not as sprawling as some, it’s smaller and more compact, but it is very diverse. We serve 500 libraries and information centers throughout the six states and see a great mix of people, so we focus on local needs. Our goal is to build on-going, lasting relationships within a community.

NLM in Focus: Are there any challenges unique to your region? If so, how have you overcome them?

Our greatest challenge is serving an extremely varied population in both heavily urban and remote rural areas. To serve diverse populations, we focus on three areas: public health, professional development, and knowledge management.

NLM in Focus: What are your proudest accomplishments?

Our e-Science portal, through which health science librarians can access resources related to networked science, research data management, and biological science subjects, is a huge success and a great collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the NN/LM.

e-science portal logoWe created the site in 2009 and have had a lot of positive feedback since, plus other libraries have emulated it. Librarians like having a single site for science information and resources. Not all librarians have a science background, so many find the portal helpful as a resource that can point the way.

Prior to developing the e-Science portal, we had initiated a series of annual e-Science programs: an e-science symposium, Science Boot Camp, and a Professional Development Day. These programs are all part of our overall strategy for providing e-Science outreach education to health sciences and engineering librarians working in research institutions.

We’ve also established the open access, peer reviewed Journal of eScience Librarianship (JeSLIB) as a forum for scholarly communication. JeSLIB issues include research papers, shorter “e-Science in Action” articles, reviews, editorials, special topic issues, and proceedings from the annual e-Science symposium.

The Library is also developing a Research Data Management Curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences, health sciences and engineering programs in collaboration with some of the top universities and research institutes and laboratories in New England. The program focuses on teaching best data management practices for nascent research students in all scientific disciplines, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels

We also offer the full text of over 100 journals and other publications to state public health workers in New England and five additional states (CO, AR, KY, WI, and AK). Access to the journals and current biomedical information is a powerful teaching and research tool.

NLM in Focus: Tell us about the community outreach projects. How do they work?

Our Focused Health Information Outreach targets one rural and one urban community each year in areas with high rates of health disparities. Our goal is to increase the knowledge and use of NLM resources and services for those in need. We start by interviewing community leaders to identify major health issues, health information needs, and potential project partners.  We then conduct training sessions, which include evaluations to demonstrate the value of our work.  We exhibit at local conferences and health fairs and connect with community groups interested in health information resources.

In 2010, our initial outreach began with pilot programs serving the Latino community of Providence, Rhode Island, and senior residents in rural Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford Counties, in western Maine. Our goal is to increase awareness and use of NLM’s MedlinePlus and NIHSeniorHealth, two consumer health Web resources.

In Providence, we trained five Latino students who then reached over 800 Adult Basic Education students at the Dorcas Place Welcome Back Center.  The MedlinePlus train-the-trainer materials developed for the project are still used in our region and in several other NN/LM regions, and the director of the Welcome Back Center, Manuela Raposo, was interviewed on Latino Public Radio.

In 2011-2012, our Focused Outreach areas included the Downeast Public Health District in Maine and Holyoke, Massachusetts. In Maine, our partners included the Healthy Maine Partnerships, the Maine State Library, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. We developed a video tutorial for the Maine State Library now linked on the Training Materials section of MedlinePlus.

During our community assessment in Holyoke, the teen pregnancy rate caught our attention: it is the highest in the state. We tailored our outreach efforts to connect with community groups serving young adults, including the Holyoke Community College, the Holyoke Public Schools, the Care Center, the Holyoke Housing Authority, and the Holyoke Public Library. During 2011-2012, our project reached more than 350 people.  Our evaluations showed that nine out of 10 participants said the class improved their ability to find information they could trust on the Internet, and were very likely to use MedlinePlus in the future.  Follow-up evaluations showed that eight out of 10 participants told others about the Web sites taught in the class.

This year, our outreach efforts are in Hartford, Connecticut and northern Worcester County, Massachusetts.  We collaborated with the University of St. Joseph School of Social Work, the Hartford Hospital Medical Library, and the Montachusett Opportunity Council, and local high school HOSA—Future Health Professionals chapters,  a national career and technical student organization.

The Focused Health Information Outreach project is a team project that involves all our staff.  We work together to select the geographic areas, conduct the Key Informant Interviews, offer trainings, exhibits, and gather evaluation data.  Through it all, we learned some key lessons:  identify the specific needs of our community partners, customize our programs for each community, and be flexible and creative.

NLM in Focus:  How has technology affected your work?

New technologies transformed our work in the past couple years.  With NIHAdobeConnect, we offer webinars on a variety of hot topics for health science librarians, public librarians, public health staff and health care professionals. Our Communities of Interest sponsored over a dozen webinars for 500 professionals. Webinar topics included how to create an effective health information handout, creative approaches to health information outreach, and an introduction to Regional Extension Centers and Health Information Exchanges. Webinars increase our capacity to offer programs in the winter season, though we still find our network members appreciate in-person professional development days on topics like PubMed, Health Information Equity and eScience.  Our e-Science portal is a great example of using technology to build communities and create links to science resources. We have a team of subject specialists from New England research libraries who scour the web for e-Science news, events, projects, and tutorials. The e-Science Community blog is a great success and allows users to stay in touch with what’s current in the science community. We also have a Twitter account at the e-Science portal @NERescience.  The NN/LM NER’s blog and Twitter feed helps us reach our membership with timely announcements about professional development opportunities and updates about National Library of Medicine resources and services.

NLM in Focus: Any Final Thoughts on Your Work?

We focus on programs that make a difference. Our Communities of Interest, Focused Outreach and e-Science initiative are helping people.  By providing opportunities for professional development for our network membership, we improve the provision of health information by libraries, public health agencies, and community organizations in the New England Region. Through our Focused Outreach, we connect organizations in desperate need of quality health information with National Library of Medicine resources.  We try very hard to define a community’s needs so we can meet them and make a real difference in people’s lives.  The National Library of Medicine is a wealth of outstanding health information resources, and our top priority is to expand the use of NLM’s resources in New England.

By Thomas Conuel, NLM in Focus writer

New England Region staff photos

Staff of the New England Region: (left to right, top to bottom) Elaine Martin, Director; Mary Piorun, Associate Director; Michelle Eberle, Consumer Health Coordinator; Martha Pearson, Financial Assistant; Stephanie Friree, Project Manager Outreach; Meredith Solomon, Outreach and Education Coordinator; Myrna Morales, Technology Coordinator


Next month NLM in Focus will feature the Pacific Southwest Region.