Guest post by Martha Meacham, MA, MLIS, NNLM Project Director
The NLM’s Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) has a long, successful history of promoting access to and education about high quality health information, improving the health and health literacy of all. The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed how we approach our work, but our goals and successes have not changed. Adaptability, without sacrificing the quality and impact of our programs, is at our core. We’ve discovered new possibilities and engaged communities in new ways. These are just a few stories from across NNLM.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NNLM had expertise conducting virtual programming due to the hundreds of events and classes offered each year. NNLM’s expertise was leveraged to expand our programming by transforming in-person events to virtual experiences, including virtual trainings, book clubs, and online symposiums addressing misinformation about COVID-19 — all with the goal of continuing to engage with communities.
Kiri Burcat, a Data and Evaluation Coordinator with the NNLM says, “NNLM was well-equipped for the COVID-19 work environment. With our regional/national collaborative model, we were used to video conferencing, long-distance collaboration, and online learning. While I hope to see my colleagues across the country in-person again soon, I also hope that this experience will lead us to experiment with different ways to keep online learning fresh and engaging.”
An attendee from one of NNLM’s virtual book club events shared how adapting to a virtual format provided different opportunities for the community, “I was at the Hood River Public Library and saw a book that caught my eye being given out at the COVID-safe space in the lobby. I learned about the upcoming author talk and the NNLM’s role in this effort. I was so impressed. I sent out a notice to my friends and encouraged them to join me in sharing the information on the book’s availability and the January 14th livestream event on Facebook and other social media to help reach more people. How inspirational! Thank you!”
Even with the restrictions of COVID-19, NNLM enabled its partners to continue their community outreach and engagement efforts. Cara Burton, System Director, Eastern Shore Public Library, Accomac, VA, highlighted, “The free print materials are very helpful in our outreach to poor, rural areas. For example, [NNLM-selected precision medicine] materials were distributed during COVID-19 in library packets at the public school free-meal pick-up sites. The NNLM staff did great outreach.”
NNLM coordinators across the country work closely with partners and member organizations to create and maintain high-quality work. “I have been incredibly inspired by the tenacity and innovation of our members who had to reinvent their organizations and services all at once to provide for their communities — and did so with excellence,” says Network Engagement Coordinator, Nancy Patterson.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed opportunities for education on new topics and brought attention to needed skills. For example, a group within the NNLM organized a webinar series, Identifying and Combating Health Misinformation, featuring expert speakers who discussed various aspects of online health misinformation, how to identify it, and how to help curb its spread. After attending an event, one participant noted, “All of it was helpful. It will assist in better educating others on vaccines, the importance, and ways to know what is and what is not misleading information.” Another attendee noted that a benefit of the class was, “Learning about various ways misinformation can be spread. and learning about ways to stop the spread of misinformation.”
In another example of unique and timely programming, Liz Waltman, NNLM Outreach, Education, and Communications Coordinator notes, “The NNLM has had the opportunity to highlight the work our members are doing at this time. In particular, the webinar about evaluating information during COVID-19 was well attended and received.”
NNLM maintains its commitment to providing high quality educational and engagement opportunities for medical librarians and other professionals. Miso Lee, a data analyst with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX writes, “I am really grateful for [the] professional development award that allowed me to get the training I need. Second, I like informational webinars, particularly those related to COVID-19. I learned several creative ideas from other organizations.”
The resilience and adaptability of NNLM, founded on its unique expertise and experience, enabled this network of more than 8,000 academic health science libraries, hospital and public libraries, and community organizations to stretch, grow, and keep NLM relevant to communities, including medically underserved communities. Looking forward, NNLM will nurture the partnerships and approaches it has gained from this experience as it continues to expand and deepen NLM’s presence in communities across the country.
COVID-19 certainly has brought about changes and challenges, but through the great efforts of the NNLM staff and the wonderful work of its members and community partners, we remain strong and dedicated in these times.
Check out this upcoming series exploring the impact of COVID-19 and sign up here.
Martha Meacham is the Project Director of NNLM. Martha is a passionate advocate for improving the health of all through access to and understanding of health information.