Answering the Call: Academic Health Sciences Libraries and COVID-19

Featured image showing a book with symbolic internet connections overplayed on it. In the background is a keyboard with a button labelled as "Virtual Library"

Guest post by members of a large collaborative network of academic health sciences libraries

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting public health crisis have had a profound impact, reshaping patient care, training, research, learning, and community engagement across academic medicine. Academic health sciences libraries are answering an urgent call to implement the virtual library as an extension of our embedded and integrated roles on campus. The closure of physical spaces during this time highlights the critical role of the virtual services, resources, and training provided by libraries and has accelerated the maturation of many remote resources and services to support and advance institutional missions of research, patient care, education, innovation, and public health.

Academic health sciences libraries are leveraging electronic collections and services and quickly pivoting to meet users’ needs in a variety of ways. Here are some of the actions libraries are taking in the areas of clinical care, education, research, resources, and outreach:

Clinical Care

  • Curating information resources to support health care providers who are transitioning to the front line in preparation for a surge in hospitalizations, including retirees reentering the workforce to care for patients
  • Providing comprehensive searching for evidence-based information on topics such as personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE,” sanitization and reuse to help safeguard frontline health care providers
  • Providing rapid evidence searching and synthesis services to support the treatment of high-risk patients and specialty care areas, in addition to informing clinical management decisions and public safety
  • Developing guidelines and providing government information on recommendations for the production of PPE face masks using 3-D printing capacity in library-based collaborative “maker-spaces” to align closely with institutional efforts to supply equipment for health care workers 

Education

  • Designing COVID-19 instruction modules and elective courses in partnership with medical education faculty
  • Integrating digital content, including alternatives to print materials, into the evolving online learning environment
  • Facilitating access to online medical education resources to support students preparing for board exams or engaged in clerkships
  • Advancing health literacy by teaching students to communicate effectively with patients and caregivers

Research

  • Creating online learning opportunities in data analysis, visualization, programming, research impact, and more to support and enhance research activities
  • Collaborating with researchers on conducting data analysis, writing for publication, and preparing grant applications during the hiatus of nonessential laboratory work
  • Providing training and consultation services to users on data collection and collaboration via electronic lab notebooks, data collection tools, institutional repositories, and other digital platforms

Resources

  • Maintaining electronic interlibrary loan services through a robust digital network
  • Managing access to peer-reviewed literature to support patient care and emerging research
  • Aggregating and curating COVID-19 resources to help people stay current with the latest articles, rapid reviews, and guidelines and to orient users to critical datasets and analytical tools
  • Negotiating with publishers for temporary expanded access to online content

Outreach

  • Reaching out to populations outside our own institutions to address global health issues
  • Identifying and promoting open-access resources to help providers and community groups
  • Curating consumer health web resources to point the public to authoritative sources of information
  • Providing online wellness activities for our communities

While physically separated, we are working to create stronger bonds among ourselves, connecting with colleagues across the nation and around the world to support one another. The interconnected and collegial nature of our profession is well established, with libraries and librarians enjoying a long history of strong professional networks and collaboration. Our professional associations, including the Regional Medical Libraries of the NLM-supported National Network of Libraries of Medicine, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, and the Medical Library Association and its regional Chapters, have been instrumental in cultivating and fostering these networks through regular communications, member support tools, and professional development opportunities. Our networks continue to be a vital foundation for our work and serve to connect us as we share, support, and address urgent information needs.

We acknowledge the toll this crisis is taking. We value the significant and substantial efforts we are engaged in to support and care for ourselves, our families, and our communities during this difficult time. As we continue forward, we offer these thoughts:

To researchers, students, and administrators: Connect with your librarians to establish new partnerships in the creation, collection, and sharing of knowledge. Look to the library for new strategies to advance learning, teaching, and research. Whether on our campuses or virtually, academic health sciences libraries foster health literacy, evidence-based practice, public access, and the creation and sharing of knowledge, while supporting the advancement of state-of-the-art patient care, research, education, and public health — far beyond what you may perceive as traditional library services.

To our colleagues: The current crisis, with its constant demands and urgent requirements, underscores the unquestionable value of librarians in the discovery, creation, and management of knowledge. Your professionalism and proactive innovation are both inspiring and impactful as we work together to address rapidly evolving information needs while developing and maturing critical services, resources, and training.

We celebrate the tremendous achievement by health sciences libraries to pivot to a fully online environment while providing largely uninterrupted access to resources and to valuable services and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The examples above, and many more not included here, demonstrate the diverse ways that health sciences libraries are stepping up in the face of the current situation, and how libraries will continue to evolve and develop new solutions to meet information challenges.

Row 1 (left to right):
Marisa Conte, MLIS, Associate Director, Research and Informatics, Taubman Health Sciences Library, University of Michigan
John Gallagher, MLS, Director, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University
Kristi L. Holmes, PhD, Director, Galter Health Sciences Library and Learning Center and Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine-Health and Biomedical Informatics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Janice M. Jaguszewski, MSLIS, Associate University Librarian and Director, Health Sciences Libraries, University of Minnesota 

Row 2 (left to right):
Barbara Kern, MLIS, Director, Sciences and Social Sciences and Director, John Crerar Library, The University of Chicago
Melissa L. Rethlefsen, MSLS, AHIP, Associate Dean, George A. Smathers Libraries and Fackler Director, Health Science Center Libraries, University of Florida
Anne K. Seymour, MS, Director, Welch Medical Library and Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Informatics, Johns Hopkins University

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