On Monday, February 24, 2020, I had the privilege of interviewing Christian Minter, Community Engagement, and Health Literacy Librarian at the McGoogan Library of Medicine of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. During our 30-minute telephone interview, Minter shared her thoughts on how a consumer health librarian’s job differs from those of other librarians and information professionals. We also discussed: the questions which their library receives most frequently; the tools their librarians use to answer them; questions which they refrain from answering; ways for librarians to avoid information liability; barriers that their library’s patrons face in accessing consumer health information; and, how they overcome those barriers.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) is the state’s only public, academic health sciences center. It is committed to educating and preparing a health care workforce that is prepared for 21st-century challenges, finding cures and treatments for devastating diseases, providing the best care for patients, and serving Nebraska and its communities through outreach programs (About Us | University of Nebraska Medical Center, n.d.).
The McGoogan Library of Medicine serves the information needs of UNMC students, faculty and staff, licensed Nebraska health professionals, and residents of the state by providing access to collections of print and electronic materials, developing applications of information technology, promoting the development of information management skills that support lifelong learning, and promoting networking and the integration of information (About Us | McGoogan Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center, n.d.). The McGoogan Library of Medicine’s Liaison Program is designed to assist faculty, staff, and students by providing contact to a liaison librarian whose role is to:
- serve as a point of contact for library-related questions
- provide education services to inform and teach users how to access and use the library’s resources and services and how to find information effectively
- advocate for your needs within the library
- provide orientations on library services and customized classes upon request
- consult on literature search strategies
- consult on systematic reviews
- provide instruction on database and literature searches, citation management, evidence-based practice, and other knowledge management skills, and
- develop customized online learning tutorials and guides (Liaisons | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center, n.d.)
Ms. Minter is a graduate of the Catholic University of America and holds an M.S. in Library and Information Science with a specialization in Level II Consumer Health Information. She is one of the library’s seven Liaison Librarians, and her areas of expertise include: literature searching; systematic reviews; Evidence-Based Practice; Consumer Health Information; and, resources for unaffiliated health practitioners (Christian I.J. Minter | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center, n.d.). Minter’s research interests include user experience, information seeking behavior, diversity issues in librarianship, health literacy, disparities in maternal and child health.
Since a great deal of information about the Library Liaison role was available on the website, our interview focused on a few key questions.
Q1. How do your job responsibilities as a Consumer Health Information Liaison Librarian differ from those of other librarians/information professionals?
Minter: As a Community Engagement and Health Literacy Librarian, I don’t sit at a Reference Desk. My role is more involved with community outreach. A large part of my job involves overseeing the Consumer Health Information Resource Service (CHIRS), the library web portal designed to provide consumer health information to the public ( https://www.unmc.edu/library/consumer/index.html ).
I’m involved in every aspect of the website, from its graphic design to selecting content. I also handle the more complex questions that patrons submit on the portal. My other activities include traveling across the state, delivering health information presentations at schools and organizations. I recently taught a class in lifelong learning at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
Q2. Why did you decide on this area of library specialization?
Minter: I began my career working in a public library and realized that I had a passion for making health information available to the public. I also enjoy learning about medical issues. I took a position with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and was subsequently hired for my current position.
Q3. What are a few questions that your patrons ask most frequently, and what tools do you use to answer them?
Minter: The questions often involve new diagnoses, when people have just received a diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure and want more information. People also ask questions about symptoms so they can have more informed conversations with their doctor. We get quite a few questions from family caregivers. I have noticed a trend of receiving more
complex questions and customers who want information from professional journals. I like to give patrons an option of consumer or professional information. I often refer patrons to MedlinePlus, resources from NIH agencies, health-related non-profits, and disease-specific organizations like the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Diabetes Association, and Cancercare. I also refer to resources like PubMed, UpToDate (a clinical point of care tool), and Lexicomp (a point-of-care drug information resource).
Q4. Are there any types of questions that you avoid answering?
Minter: I avoid offering personal advice and explaining information. If a customer asks for a definition of a term, I point them to a reference source such as a dictionary or encyclopedia.
Q5. What should a consumer health librarian/information professional do to avoid information liability?
Minter: Libraries should have a disclaimer statement on their websites like the one on CHIRS.
“This service is intended to provide general information for you. Only a health professional (doctor, nurse, etc.) can interpret the information for your condition and situation. Please consult your health professional on specific medical questions.
Our librarian’s role is to provide access to a range of authoritative materials, but he or she cannot be held responsible for the scientific accuracy or currency of all materials in the collection. The information conveyed by librarians does not constitute legal advice. Reference librarians will not perform research for legal cases or interpret legal materials. If legal advice is required, the patron should seek the assistance of a licensed attorney.”
(Consumer Health Information Resource Service (CHIRS) | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center, n.d.)
Librarians should make it clear that you are an information provider and not offering medical advice.
Q6. What do you see as barriers that your patrons face with accessing consumer health information?
Minter: The main barriers are: a lack of health literacy, problems critically accessing information, and an inability to find, understand, and apply information. Many patrons have problems navigating the health care system or managing their health. While others have limited access to resources via the internet or difficulties traveling to places that provide information. And some are not comfortable having conversations with their health care provider.
Our library addresses many of these barriers through our community outreach program, which holds takes consumer health information out to the community and by the CHIRS website, which allows people to contact a librarian by email or phone.
Q7. I see that your research interests include diversity in librarianship. Can you explain why that is important in Consumer Health Information Librarianship?
Minter: Librarians need to have “cultural humility,” a sensitivity to differences in cultural practices and belief that may impact a person’s healthcare. Patrons may feel more comfortable asking health questions of someone who looks like them.
Q8. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in medical librarianship?
Minter: I would do what you’re doing now, interview librarians who work in different types of library settings. Also, consider internships, shadowing a medical librarian, taking online classes from NNML, applying for fellowships, and joining professional organizations.
About Us | McGoogan Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.unmc.edu/library/about/index.html
About Us | University of Nebraska Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.unmc.edu/aboutus/index.html
Christian I.J. Minter | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.unmc.edu/library/contact/liaisons/minter.html
Consumer Health Information Resource Service (CHIRS) | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.unmc.edu/library/consumer/index.html
Liaisons | Library | University of Nebraska Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.unmc.edu/library/contact/liaisons/index.html
Categories: Consumer Health Information, librarianship, Medical Libraries
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