UW News

February 8, 2007

Improving health literacy one contact at a time — UW Health Sciences Library is a regional resource

Most people on campus know the UW Health Sciences Library as a font of health information for students, staff and faculty. What is less known is that the library is one of eight Regional Medical Libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, a program created in the 1960s “to bring the power and strength of the great medical libraries of the country closer to the user, whatever his geographic location.”

Funded by the National Library of Medicine, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Northwest Region (NN/LM PNR) program serves more than 360 medical libraries and community organizations, as well as minority-serving institutions committed to improving the region’s health service and biomedical research infrastructure

“Having credible research data makes a difference in health care and health outcomes. However, the information most needed is not always easy to locate” said Cathy Burroughs, associate director of the NN/LM PNR. “With a staff of nine in the Regional Medical Library, we assist organizations in providing efficient and equitable health information delivery to health providers and the public, especially in underserved communities. We also provide training on finding and getting needed health information, and funding for libraries and community organizations in the NN/LM PNR.”

The NN/LM PNR Web site (http://nnlm.gov/pnr)  serves as a portal for programs and services and provides a link to many National Library of Medicine resources, including the popular PubMed database of biomedical article citations (http://pubmed.gov) and MedlinePlus, a consumer health information resource (http://medlineplus.gov).

With the rapid development of the Internet as an information source, the NN/LM PNR has become a trusted resource and advocate for consumer needs to find the best medical information available.

“Ultimately, we want to improve health information literacy by providing access to trusted sources, training communities on how to use the information and educating people on how to make a good decision about their health care once they find a trustworthy source. Or, at least, to be able to ask their health care providers the right questions,” says Gail Kouame, consumer health coordinator for PNR.

Kouame and others in the Regional Medical Library travel throughout the five-state region (Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska) teaching libraries’ staff, medical and social service providers, and community groups how to access, use and evaluate health care information.

“We provide training in how to evaluate good sites from junk, how to use PubMed and MedlinePlus in searching for health information supported by the National Library of Medicine, as well as other reputable sources,” Kouame says. “We also train community groups on how to set up consumer health services. Access to quality health information helps people make better health decisions.”

Organizations can apply to the Regional Medical Library for small awards and subcontracts to fund state and local health information programs and services. Recently funded projects include two new digital libraries in Washington state counties to meet unique information needs of their diverse public health workforce; new training resources in Idaho to increase evidence-based practice by speech and language disorder professionals; and innovative partnerships in Montana by a public library and community clinics to improve the public’s skill in locating credible information for personal health decisions. Around the region, other recently funded awards have supported increased access to information resources to help homeless youth achieve self-sufficiency and healthier lives in Oregon; and more culturally responsive health research in Alaska via training to access community-based participatory research methods and findings.

Last spring, the National Library of Medicine renewed the UW Health Sciences Library’s contract for the NN/LM PNR program with a $6.5 million award. Sherrilynne Fuller, director of the NN/LMN PNR and the Health Sciences Libraries since 1988, observes that the scope of the contract has expanded over the years in recognition of the library’s long history and commitment to promoting quality health information access to rural health-care providers and underserved populations.

Along with the renewed NN/LM PNR contract, UW’s Health Sciences Library received two additional awards from the National Library of Medicine worth over $6 million over the next five years. These two contracts fund the Outreach Evaluation Resource Center and the Web Services Technology and Operations Center, national centers that provide support in program evaluation and web services to the NN/LM’s eight multistate regions and more than 5,800 local and state organizations.

For more information, visit the NN/LM PNR Web site at http://nnlm.gov/pnr. Or contact Cathy Burroughs, associate director NN/LM PNR, at cburroug@u.washington.edu  or 206-543-9261.