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Author: Alan Backer

Different Cultures and Experiences in Medical Librarianship – Hospital Libraries

hospital library

One of the great things about being in a medical library association is getting to know colleagues who perform work either different from our own or the same type of work but in a different culture or environment. Many of us in ALHeLA work mainly in an academic setting and have built-in institutional support due to the not-insignificant role of libraries in the world of education. The extended schedules of the academic world provide us with the time and flexibility, while working with students and faculty can be considered more laid-back (at least in my experience) than perhaps in other settings.

It is easy to forget in this setting that not every medical librarian works within the same context. During a recent UAB library staff meeting on Zoom, a couple of presentations piqued my interest in the day-to-day ins-and-outs of different types of medical librarians, particularly those who work within the hospital setting. While some hospital libraries are still part of a university and therefore have the institutional support that I mentioned earlier, others within a hospital-only setting may be subject to the budgetary whims of an administration that may not fully understand the benefits that a library brings. And both types of hospital libraries have patrons who often need answers immediately and are not provided the time that others of us are afforded.

With all of the in mind, I thought it would be interesting for ALHeLA members to read about the experiences of all types of different librarians in the medical community, and hospital librarianship is a great introduction for that. I asked Tracy Powell from the Lister Hill Library at UAB University Hospital and Alanna Cole from the Kahn-Sibley Medical Library at Grandview Medical Center to provide us with some insight into their day-to-day experiences and I’m grateful that they were more than happy to share.

My Experience as a New Medical Librarian

By Alanna Cole, MA, MLIS

Kahn-Sibley Medical Library at Grandview Medical Center

The Position

I am the hospital librarian at the Kahn-Sibley Medical Library located at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.  I have been employed at Kahn-Sibley since January 2021 and graduated with my MLIS from the University of Alabama in spring 2019. 

The library is not open to the public and serves primarily any hospital staff members that deal with patient care.  The residents and physicians are the most frequent patrons of the library.

Perks of the Job

One of my favorite things about my position as a hospital librarian is it allows me to “multitask.”  For someone who enjoys getting to do a little bit of everything, a position like mine is ideal.  Each day comes with its own unique to-do list.  When in library school, the question, “Would you rather work in public or tech services?” came up quite a bit.  I never could make up my mind.  I enjoy helping others, and I naturally feel most comfortable teaching since I have a background in education.  However, I also like the coolness of archives and the orderliness and processes of acquisitions and cataloging.  In my current position, I do not have to pick between public or tech services librarianship, which is a dream come true to me! 

Being a hospital librarian typically means being on your own or with a very minimal staff, so the responsibility of interlibrary loan, collection development, cataloging, reference and research, instruction, and everything in between falls in your lap.  I love the variety of tasks and responsibilities that come my way each day! 

Hurdles to Overcome

One of the main duties of my position is to conduct literature searches.  As a former teacher, I always have the urge to give as much information as possible to the physicians and residents to help them with their education and patient care.  However, they don’t always want or need all of that information.  The doctors are usually without time or energy to spare, so they want the best of the information available.  It can be difficult (and sometimes daunting) to narrow down the results, especially when you feel like you would rather teach how to use the resources directly to the patron or give a ton of information like you would to a student conducting a research project.  When a surgeon says, “find 1 or 2 articles,” he or she means exactly that.  I would say I want to work on fine tuning my ability to select the most relevant and best information for the literature searches I complete.  Honing in on the best article out of a ton is a skill that comes with experience, so it is something I am eager to continue practicing as I grow as a medical librarian.

Of course, there is always the ever familiar remark, “I did not know there was a library in the hospital?!” as well.  Outreach to educate on the value of the hospital library and librarian is something that is imperative.  Shrinking budget, space, collection, etc. are constant forces against a hospital library, so the medical librarian must prioritize stating the importance of the library.  A medical library can be moved, just like the Kahn-Sibley Medical Library was down sized and moved last year to make room for new OBGYN beds, or the higher ups may not see the value of the librarian position and think it is something that can be done away with all together.  I want to work on reaching out to more physicians and nurses at Grandview Medical Center in hopes to make them key advocates of the library; this will require innovation and a little creativity! 

Of course there are a ton of other advantages and disadvantages to being a hospital librarian.  The position definitely requires certain aptitudes: research and reference skills (Yes, it can be intimidating to ask the radiologist what he meant by that abbreviation, but it is important for the reference interview), organization (What exactly is on the agenda today and needs to be prioritized?), communication and outreach (One of these days I will have perfected my elevator speech!), and a willingness to develop professionally (I don’t know what an API is or how to code one, but I am learning currently…I am not a world’s leading expert on anything, but I am willing to learn just about everything!).  If you ever feel like trying out hospital librarianship, don’t be scared to make the leap!  Look for strong mentorship (most thanks to Elizabeth Laera for being one of mine) and keep an open mind as you learn a different way to serve library patrons.

Librarian Life in a University Hospital

By Tracy Powell

Lister Hill Library at UAB University Hospital

UAB’s academic medical center is focused on providing patient care in an environment of learning and research.  The hospital has approximately 1200 beds and over 1000 medical residents, as well as many other clinical providers training and being trained while providing high volumes of complex care.  Everyone is incredibly busy and has many competing demands on their time, tending to be more focused on evaluating and using information than on learning how to find it.  So, much of our role is making sure information is easily usable, either on their own or with our expertise. 

Although the hospital library is part of the larger academic library organization at UAB, in many ways we function more like a corporate library than an academic one, in order to meet the needs of our various users as they work in the clinical environment.  We have to reach out to them in ways that work for them, rather than expecting them to appreciate our intrinsic value and to think about coming to us when they need help.  We are so much more than what many think of as “library”, and it takes ongoing effort on our part to demonstrate our value.  Some of what we do is traditional, like literature searches, identifying and locating books and articles, finding sources of good patient education, and teaching information skills to individuals or groups.  We also use our unique skills to facilitate their work in other ways, through participation on goal-focused work groups and task forces addressing patient care and research, and supporting Magnet goals and evidence-based nursing practice.

We have a very large, very diverse clientele.  Our role is to use our skills and resources to facilitate their work in any way we can.  Everyone benefits when clinical library services are a valuable partner in the education, research, and patient care goals of the health system.

An Interview with Kasia Gonnerman

Early last year, Kasia Gonnerman joined us as the new Dean of UAB Libraries. Here in Huntsville, I have gotten to know Kasia through Zoom meetings and I know I am not the only UAB librarian who is excited about the far-reaching vision and plans that she has for our library system. Her arrival has been described to me as a “breath of fresh air.” The depth of interest that she has shown in not only the overarching mission of the libraries but also the daily minutiae of our work makes it apparent that we are in good hands.

As the new editor of the ALHeLA blog, I thought an interview with her would be a good way to start my tenure, as well as an opportunity for all of the members of our conference to see what our plans are at UAB. Initially I was going to select quotes from the interview and place them in a column-style post. However, the interview that we had proved to be enlightening to the extent that I thought posting it verbatim would be the best way to give her answers justice.

What is your background?

Prior to becoming an academic librarian, I taught linguistics for five years, first at a college in the city of Poznan, Poland, then at a university in Olsztyn, Poland. (My original graduate degree, which I earned in 1990, is in Linguistics and American Literature.) 

What drew you to librarianship?

In my teaching days, I always assumed that I would continue serving in that role until the day I retire. I loved working with students and deeply enjoyed the positive energy and stimulation of the classroom environment. And yet, moving to the US in the mid-1990s made me curious about other professional paths, especially those that would allow me to continue to teach and to work closely with students. 

The more I learned about the work of academic librarians, the more appealing it seemed. I liked the fact that it offered a prospect of working with a broader diversity of students and a wider variation of topics as opposed to a narrower focus of the discipline of linguistics.

What are your favorite aspects of the profession?

Mentoring and encouraging early-career library faculty and staff to pursue their dreams and develop professionally. I find it extremely rewarding to support them as they strive to accomplish their goals and to help them succeed. And I feel that I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Has your experience at UAB so far been different from ones you have had at previous libraries?

Each institution comes with its own culture, climate, and priorities, creating a unique microcosm of human interactions and work environment, so the experience tends to be unique, too. One significant difference is that all my previous library career occurred in private institutions of higher ed, and UAB is a public university, which means I’ve had to learn a lot about different funding structures and budget models. Overall, my experience so far has been unequivocally positive. I love the optimistic, can-do attitude of library employees and the wider campus community. UAB thrums with good energy that has been palpable even during the demanding times of the pandemic. 

What is your vision for UAB libraries and librarians and our role within the greater UAB academic community?

I have myriad ideas, but will confine myself to just a few for the sake of brevity. My short- and mid-range vision comprises several goals, enumerated below, and all of them impact our UAB academic community.

  1. Expand scholarly communication services

My vision is to offer robust scholarly communication services to our constituents. We have just formed a Scholarly Communication Office at the UAB Libraries, which is charged with assisting with data management plans and manuscript deposits, and working with other units such as the UAB Office of Research to offer workshops relating to federal compliance, exploring data storage and management options, supporting faculty and staff in all areas of the copyright management process, and supporting the development and teaching of online or hybrid classes by partnering with the Center of Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, and individual faculty and staff, and advancing awareness and use of Open Education Resources and Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) through workshops and individual consultations.

2.  Strengthen collections in the areas of weaknesses and work toward data-driven collection development decisions

Just like any academic library out there, we’re facing challenges of providing resources in support of a wide spectrum of needs in terms of disciplinary areas and a wide gamut of end users. In this very complex scenario, it’s critical that we apply a data-informed approach to collection development, work very closely with the disciplinary faculty to identify critical resources for teaching and research, and work collaboratively within the UA System to strategically redistribute subscriptions to large and expensive packages.

Another area where I envision moving forward with the collections is entering into transformational agreements with publishers to facilitate Open Access (OA) publishing for authors affiliated with UAB. We have just signed a “Read & Publish” agreement with Cambridge University Press, which removes the Article Processing Charges (APC) to publish their work — at no charge — in Cambridge OA and hybrid journals. 

                3. Grow instructional program

We are very fortunate to have a team of talented, highly skilled, and dedicated librarians who run a strong library instruction program. That said, our instructional reach is uneven and our teaching engagement could be much stronger in some disciplines, especially in the humanities. Another area of focus is working more deliberately with vulnerable student populations, such as transfer students or those struggling academically. I hope we can develop a plan to capture and support those student populations to help them succeed academically. 

4. Build and strengthen collaborations with our constituents and external partners

There’s probably not an entity on campus that doesn’t have some natural intersection with the libraries, and there’s always room to grow. We’ve been working with multiple partners on campus in order to serve the campus community better. Some of the key players include the Office of Research, Center for Teaching and Learning, e-learning, University Writing Center, UAB National Alumni Society, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It’s also important for us to be part of the larger professional scene, such as ASERL, NAAL, MLA, AAHSL, and our partner libraries at the UA System.

5. Cultivate and promote special collections and digitization

I envision expanding and strengthening the pool of our supporters for historical collections (Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, and University Archives) and producing more virtual interactive exhibits to showcase our collections and honor our donors. I’m also committed to championing large-scale digitization and preservation projects, such as the UAB COVID Stories project we’re currently developing to document UAB’s experience at the time of pandemic for historical and research purposes.

6. Develop innovative programs with emerging technologies

I’d like to see us develop more programming on digital humanities projects for teaching and research and expanding teaching and collaborative opportunities with emerging technologies, such as AI, VR and 3D printing. I think that the possibilities in this area are vast and exciting.

In addition to these outward-facing goals, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to me to encourage and reward professional development across the board and to work on promoting and implementing principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. With the newly formed DEI Library Task Force, I envision that we’ll be able to make great strides in this area.

Any plans regarding new services/workshops/resources/partnerships or updates to current ones?

We’re constantly looking for new ways to enhance our services and offerings. Recently, we have launched the UAB Libraries Office of Scholarly Communication, whose mission is to support UAB faculty, staff, and students in navigating and understanding scholarly communication principles, including copyright, long-term preservation of digital assets, data management, research dissemination, scholarly impact, and public access. We plan to partner closely with the UAB Center for Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the Office of Research, and individual faculty and staff regarding scholarly communication needs and issues.

We are currently offering a number of workshops in tandem with the UAB National Alumni Society, such as AI and Libraries, Health Literacy: Finding Information You Can Trust., and UAB’s Oral History Collection​. 

We were also selected by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) to host a series of Library Carpentry workshops to support the development of data science and computational skills. The Carpentry workshops are offered this spring in a fully virtual format.

Recently, we held an exciting virtual introduction to a digital exhibit, “Narrations of ENT,” showcasing unique and rare donations from Dr. Pappas, a long-standing supporter of the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library and the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences. Presently, in collaboration with The University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association and the UAB School of Medicine, we’re gearing up for the annual Reynolds-Finley Historical Lecture scheduled for February 26. The guest speaker this year is Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH, FACP, C. Glenn Cobbs Professor in Infectious Diseases and Director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Marrazzo’s lecture is titled “The COVID Pandemic in 2021: Where Have We Been, and What Can We Expect?”

What would you like to say to medical librarians who are striving to make a tangible difference for the School of Medicine faculty and students?

First and foremost: Thank you! Your hard work and dedication are making a real difference.