SIS Social Scientist Co-edits New Book on Providing Health Information to Consumers

Headshot of Dr. Keselman

Alla Keselman, PhD

Alla Keselman, PhD, a senior social science analyst in NLM’s Division of Specialized Information Services (SIS), has recently co-edited Meeting Health Information Needs Outside of Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges, a book on a topic quite central to NLM’s mission: the many ways in which consumers seek, find, and process health information.

The book’s 14 chapters, by 20 authors, cover diverse research topics including: designing health information programs for vulnerable populations; health literacy; providing health information within public libraries; delivering health information to older adults; and how health news coverage is impacted by journalistic beat assignments. The authors, working in diverse academic and industry settings inside and outside the US, represent disciplines such as: information and library science; health communication; medical informatics; mass communication; public health; linguistics; and science education.

Keselman explained she and co-editor Catherine Arnott Smith, PhD, associate professor of library and information studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), “hoped to fill a gap within the information science literature by putting together a volume about health information provision in non-clinical settings.”

“Catherine and I have a long history of collaborative work in consumer health informatics and health information provision in public libraries,” Keselman noted.

Part of the book’s intent is to “prepare future information professionals for a world without library-type walls,” said Arnott Smith. She added that she hopes students and learners will appreciate “that many different kinds of professionals and researchers are engaged in thinking about health information delivery.”

Headshot of Dr. Arnott Smith

Catherine Arnott Smith, PhD

Keselman praised the chapter written by her co-editor, Arnott Smith, regarding changing perspectives about consumer health information requests within the nation’s libraries. She explained the chapter suggests that, while individuals asking health questions in medical and public libraries once were seen as a distraction from more vital tasks, today consumer health information assistance is perceived as part of their raison d’être.

Arnott Smith suggested that a chapter by Nancy Seeger, a medical librarian at Cleveland’s Children’s Hospital/Case Medical Center, underscores the opportunities for librarians and health communicators to assist consumers who are concerned about their immediate symptoms. She explained how Seeger’s chapter notes a confused, symptom-checking consumer provides librarians and others with a rare chance to “mediate” between the machine (health information on the Web) and the worry (personal health concerns).

Arnott Smith reported that she “test drove” the book last fall in one of her combined undergraduate and graduate classes at UW-Madison. She found the book to be especially useful when a class (or general readers) have diverse academic interests, such as public health, communication, and mass communication.

Arnott Smith joked that the skills required to edit a book about multidisciplinary, consumer health information research (from international authors) are sometimes “a cross between [those of] an army sergeant and a wedding planner.” However, both she and Keselman are pleased with the completed book’s range of topics and insights.

Moreover, Arnott Smith hopes book will encourage readers–as it did some of the book’s authors–to “shift their thinking from patients in clinical settings to consumers in non-clinical settings.”

By Dr. Rob Logan, senior staff, NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison