Deborah Magnan, MLIS, AHIP
Samuel and Sandra Hekemian Medical Library
Hackensack University Medical Center
30 Prospect Ave.
Hackensack, NJ 07601
phone: (551) 996-2326
fax: (551) 996-2467
Reviewed December 2010; Reviewed and updated August 14, 2013
Some consumer health libraries have support staff members who provide assistance to patrons using the library and its resources. At times these staff members may be the only ones available to help patients, their family members or friends, and members of the community at large locate information to answer health related questions. This occurs at the Community Health Library (CHL), a consumer health library located in the Medical Library at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, which is open from 7 am – 6 pm Monday - Friday and on Saturday.
Prior to the opening of the CHL in 2004, the library assistants were given training in the use of information resources in the collection as well as those found on MedlinePlus. It was hoped that this would allow them to locate appropriate information that might answer simple questions from users of the CHL when a librarian was not present. When the question was a more complicated one, the library assistants would do their best to find appropriate information resources, however at times they were unsuccessful. In those instances, the library assistant would ask the patron to leave a completed search form detailing their question with the assurance that it would be handled as soon as a librarian was available. In discussing some of these incidents with members of the library support staff it became apparent that they were not aware of many of the helpful resources in the collection of the CHL.
Consequently, a training program was initiated to increase the abilities of the library assistants to locate resources that would answer simple consumer health questions from patrons when a librarian was not present. The objectives for the program were that support staff would:
A case study approach was chosen as an appropriate method to use in training library support staff. There are many advantages of a case study approach, some of which include that case studies promote active learning, develop critical thinking skills, capture the interest of learners, and can be custom designed to meet the needs of learners.1
Weekly case studies were used in the CHL over a four month period. Each was designed to address a specific combination of resources and/or skills identified as needing improvement. The case study for the week was distributed on Friday and each library assistant had three to five days to locate appropriate resources to answer the question. In most cases, library assistants were expected to locate both Internet and print resources to answer the question. Each library assistant reviewed the resource they found to answer the question in the case study with a librarian on an individual basis and any questions they had about that week’s assignment could be addressed at that time.
After a four month period of weekly case studies, significant improvement was seen in the abilities of each the library assistants to locate appropriate resources to answer consumer health questions. Some of the specific skills that were learned included:
At the end of the four month period the library assistants:
It is important to continually review these issues with library assistants. Some suggestions include:
1. Dowd SB. Davidhizar R. Using case studies to teach clinical problem-solving. Nurse Educator. 1999 Sep-Oct; 24(5): 42-6.
*Based on the handout developed for the poster, "The Truth in in Here... A Case Study Based Training for Consumer Health Library Support Staff," presented October 17, 2006 at "The Evidence is in..." NAHSL/NY-NJ MLA Joint Conference.