HSLI Newsletter

Serving Illinois Health Information Professionals

Syed Maghrabi Scholarship 2010: Conference Report from Erin Moore, M.A., M.S., M.L.I.S.

Erin Moore, M.A.,M.S.,M.L.I.S.,is an Information Specialist at the Center for Health Sciences Education, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa. She is one of the three winners of the Syed Maghrabi Scholarship for 2010.

My very first Health Science Librarians of Illinois annual conference began like this. After I sat down with a fresh cup of coffee and flipped open my laptop, I discovered those little slivers of grey cat fur stuck to the keyboard cover of my MacBook. I, Erin Moore Waterman, clad in a shawl and needing only bifocals and a bun to complete the look, was at that very moment a librarian through and through– at least in terms of appearances. I planned whole-heartedly on living up to the “soft-spoken bookworm-turned party-animal”stereotype that has been both the downfall and saving grace of all librarians.

The presenter ushering us into the classroom for my first continuing education class didn’t look like a “typical” librarian; but we librarians are not easily reduced to shushing stereotypes. Maybe it’s my poor posture, but Lori Zipperer seemed to tower before me as she discussed her work as a cybrarian. I began to forget about that PubMed for Experts session I was unable to enroll in due to my incorrigible procrastination and the 20-person class limit. Knowledge Sharing, as it turned out, was shaping up to be an intriguing session. I pulled the pashmina shawl tightly around my shoulders and untwisted a grape Jolly-Rancher.

In no time, we were chatting with our cohorts. Our task-at-hand was to discuss a time when we shared information that impacted someone in a positive way. In a matter of minutes, I learned about the work my colleague does to help nurses frame clinical inquiries and organize their research. Unbeknownst to me, the bubbly librarian before me with a knack for impromptu troubleshooting would take me under her wing for the remainder of the conference. We introduced each other to the class and then listened as our colleagues followed suit. The clever ice-breaking activity was designed to tease out our understanding of “knowledge sharing” — a concept that proved to be complex and difficult to define.

Yet not impossible to define. I discovered that what I consider to be “knowledge sharing” is often no more than a one-sided attempt to “collaborate.”Don’t get me wrong — many of us have forged meaningful relationships with the health professionals we serve. For example, one librarian discussed how she routinely participates in rounds with nurses– something I cannot say I’ve done. Another librarian is active in physicians’ staff meetings, embedded in the community she serves. We librarians have a profoundly mercurial ability to take on diverse roles, to place ourselves in another’s position and see first-hand how health professionals work on a day-to-day basis. But how often do we take or create opportunities to do so? Many of our attempts to “collaborate”are, in reality, beggings or pleadings to be utilized and valued on our own terms. If our greatest strengths lie less in organizing and retrieving information and more in forging human relationships, there leaves much to be desired. Let me speak for myself here: I have lots of work to do.

Perhaps our ideas about “knowledge sharing” have changed (or degenerated) over time and ironically within the presence of social networking tools designed to enable the “sharing”of information. That link I shared on FaceBook today? The bookmark I saved to my Delicious account? Could the mere act of linking to an article be considered “sharing?”Did this “sharing”help anyone in a meaningful way? I’m inclined to think that randomly sharing links (similar to “finding articles”) is a less effective way to help someone fulfill a need for information. As I now understand it, a better, stronger kind of “knowledge sharing” is enriched by a profound, mutual understanding of one another’s work.

My neighbor laughed as I pitched another Jolly Rancher wrapper onto the growing mountain before me. My teeth were covered in a thin film of sugar and coffee, and the caffeine was definitely wearing off. I clicked and clacked away on my keyboard, noting the questions that arose during our discussion:
How can we contribute to practice & care?
How can we create open environments for sharing?
How can we support the needs of patients?
What does hierarchy look like in an organization?

Through a discursive process of questioning, discussing, and sharing stories that would illustrate how librarians went beyond their call of duty–for the good of the organization and for the profession at large–we began to answer these complex questions. Zipperer kept bringing us back full circle: it wasn’t about helping people find things or information so much as it is about helping people find people. Knowledge Sharing is about people– not things. The very phrase itself, “knowledge sharing,”sounds clinical, empty. Information, void of human interaction, is empty. It’s one thing to explode Mesh Heading for “surgery”to include its additional entry terms (operative therapy, operative procedures, invasive procedures, etc.); but it’s another thing entirely to converse with a nurse about his or her first-hand experience with witnessing family-presence during the resuscitation of a loved one in the Emergency Room.

The Knowledge Sharing presentation really got me thinking about the kind of work I do and the kind of work I could be doing. I need to go beyond what I already do– does that make sense? Now maybe all this philosophical, idealistic stuff doesn’t belong in this article; but I’m leaving it in: we should be able to envision and strive for something better than what we currently have.

We librarians are often vocal about our resourcefulness, at least when it comes to proving our worth to outsiders. I myself have taken much pleasure in identifying myself with the ranks of misunderstood, super-savvy librarians who would bend over backwards for little pay to connect patrons with the information they need– and out of the goodness of our hearts, no less. I am proud of this profession and the hard-working, compassionate people I have met who do go the extra mile to track down a rare document only 2 libraries own. I became a librarian not because I had positive interactions with information but instead because I had positive interactions with librarians. So here’s a question I’ve pondered: If we’re so resourceful and heroic (librarian by day, batgirl by night), why doesn’t the general public’s understanding of librarianship reflect our self-appointed awesomeness? Why is it still largely a secret that we’re so freakin’ amazing?

By the time Zipperer’s session concluded at noon, I was out of coffee and only two Jolly Ranchers remained in the little glass jar on the desk. I left the session feeling energized and headed over to the small lobby where I reconvened with newfound friends. We were thrilled the breakfast foods from earlier were still out for consumption, and I happily gobbled down a few french toast sticks, pastries, and juicy pieces of cantaloupe. I’ve gotta say, those conference planners sure had their priorities in order: I didn’t go hungry at the conference, and that’s an understatement. With coffee and foodstuffs aplenty, I was akin to Templeton, the scavenging rat from Charlotte’s Web with a penchant for smorgasbords. Yep, I really did just compare myself to Templeton the Rat. To follow this thread through to its logical end, the HSLI conference would then be the smorgasbord, smorgasbord, smorgasbord.

For lunch I feasted on sandwiches, soups, and deserts. There were salads, steamed vegetables, hummus, fruit, and popsicles. The lunch-hour buzzed with laughter and conversation about cats, math, knitting, beading, and dogs. Libraries came up in conversation, too, of course. And so did cheesecake. And tiramisu. Once all of the blood rushed toward my stomach to aid in digesting the huge pile of food I had ingested, I filled up on coffee and strolled lazily to the second continuing education of the day. I joked that my new cohorts would have to roll me back to the classroom.

If there is one thing you should not do at a conference, it is this: do not, for the love of Pete, expect to fend off food-coma after devouring not one–but two–giant slices of buttery, sugary deliciousness dusted with powdered sugar and smothered in strawberry (or was it raspberry?) sauce– all of this on top of beastly portions of meats, cheeses, and stews. At one time in my life, I had reserved unbuttoning my fly for Thanksgiving.

I felt sympathetic for Samanthi Hewakapuge, who graciously welcomed us to her session, my second continuing education class of the afternoon. Being the two-o’ clock presenter is always a challenge after your typically apt pupils return to the classroom with heavy eyelids and a craving for caffeine.

I’m grateful that Health News in the Headlines was a very interactive and hands-on session. Hewakapuge inspired us to think about the representation of medical studies in the popular media. I appreciated being able to physically investigate a medical study and its correlating press release in a popular news magazine. I would have never thought to ask: “who is paying for the study?”As librarians, we are prone to discussing bias in research. We even teach people how to evaluate information; yet I have often failed to ask those simple yet crucial questions.

The “fake”health journals debacle comes to mind here: heavyweight Elsevier provided access to some six “journals”sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that cast a favorable light on findings that favored the drug “Vioxx.” Talk about bias. In this case, the question of “who is paying for the study?” was especially pertinent. The lesson I took away was this: health information is a commodity. Pharmaceutical companies may have our health and wellness in mind, but that’s probably not the only thing. If you want to read a story about the whole fiasco, go here.

Until Hewakapuge’s presentation, I had never looked closely at the relationship between celebrity and illness. I had never considered how illness could bring widespread awareness to an individual. To test our knowledge of popular culture, Hewakapuge had us complete an interesting matching activity. Having completed the activity quickly, the librarians around me required very little time and effort to match a celebrity with his or her disease. The message was clear: celebrity status popularizes disease and illness and brings awareness to the public.

I had about an hour or so between the end of Health Issues in the Headlines and Nancy’s Reception to catch a nap before the poster sessions and festivities began at 6:00. Around 6:30 or so, I strolled down to the reception and made my way around the room to have a look at the poster presentations. Again, the concept of collaboration and forming partnerships came up throughout the night as I chatted with some of the presenters. I was happy to see some familiar faces hovering near the compact-shelving presentation table. I squinted and puzzled and finally recognized the faces from the March 2010 IACRL conference in Springfield, Illinois.

Nancy’s Reception was a wonderful blend of information, entertainment, and of course: food. I enjoyed the database demonstrations and the compact-shelving slideshow. Really, who knew compact-shelves could be so much fun? During much of the reception, I maintained a familiar state of food-coma that characterized much of my conference experience up until that point. And the balloon-animal centerpieces and little boxes of animal crackers? Loved ’em! The conference planners added little touches like these to really create a fun and memorable environment.

Remember those neat conference tote-bags we received during registration?: that’s what I’m talking about! I was so excited about receiving my very own copy of Amy Glenn Vega’s novella and– wait for it– a Rubik’s Cube! For those of you who did not receive one of a limited number of nostalgia-inducing cubes, I apologize for my annoying enthusiasm; it was just too fun. I’m used to the strictly practical conference swag– like those keychain hand-sanitizers and plastic coffee mugs. So not the case in Lisle, IL at the Health Science Librarians of Illinois conference.
Update on the Rubik’s Cube: my husband loves it! It is a permanent fixture on our living-room coffee table and has occupied countless early-morning hours.

And then there was the Raffle– an event unto itself. Why on earth would I want an iPod touch when I could have my very own copy of Illinois Governors at Home: 1855-2003? Yep, folks, I am now the proud owner of the greatest of all prizes raffled off at the conference. And better still: the highly coveted masterpiece being showcased on my home bookcase is a one-of-kind edition that was actually signed (at the conference, mind you!) by someone who actually shook the hand of Rod Blagojevich himself. That’s right, –the night couldn’t have gotten any better. Perhaps one more slice of cheesecake could have improved my beyond-elated state; yet it’s possible more sugar and cream and butter may have pushed me over the edge. Why mess with a good thing?

After carousing with a few conference-goers (you know who you are), I sipped the remaining red liquid from my goblet and decided I had better retire to my cozy, hotel bed and call my hubby. It was probably around 10 p.m. or just a bit after, and I had about an hour to flip through the channels and find something interesting to fall asleep to. I settled on Russian news delivered in English and then ended up watching these short cooking videos on YouTube that are supposed to teach you how to cook Russian cuisine while also teaching you how to speak Russian. I am convinced that the part of my brain that is responsible for learning other languages is blocked or simply switched off. I slipped into sleeptown and dreamt of a cornucopia of breakfast foods and the divine aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans looming in the not-so-distant future.

The final act of the conference, the keynote address of Ms. Amy Glenn Vega, author of Lions, Tigers, & Nurses: A Nursing Novella about Lateral Violence was doubtless the highlight of the conference. Vega took to the podium that Friday morning with ease and conveyed her enthusiasm about accepting the invitation to speak at the HSLI 2010 conference. I think what was so magical about her, and what made her talk especially perfect for the conference, is that she has an interactive approach and invites audience participation in a way that makes her a unique and exciting presenter. One could tell she really wanted to connect with us and to hear what we had to say. Of course, we were more interested in learning about what she had to share with us.

Immediately, we were asked to chat with our neighbor and talk about the strangest or most bizarre job we had ever had. It didn’t take long before laughter erupted into the atmosphere. Heads flew black and smiles were painted on all of our faces as we discussed some of the more peculiar work we had done — prior to becoming health science librarians, of course.

I know we all had moments that stuck out most for us during Ms. Vega’s presentation, but I have no doubt that we were moved, some of us to tears, when she shared her story about how she got into the field of working with nurses. We sometimes stumble upon something serendipitously– by chance–but that stumbling, I’m convinced, is not without a tinge of destiny. The slideshow that introduced us to the young girl who Vega essentially saved under very unique circumstances proved to be an inspiring illustration of the power of partnerships and of language. That Vega approached the little girl pinned beneath the van and could communicate with her in her native Spanish is nothing short of a miracle (in Spanish, the word for miracle is milagro). Especially in the world of health and medicine, we hope for miracles and sometimes witness them. Maybe they’re more common then we think. The keynote speaker even stuck around after her presentation to autograph our copies of Lions, Tigers, and Nurses.

Until this past week, I had never attended a Health Science Librarians of Illinois annual conference. To be completely honest, I half-expected to come away with a laundry-list of new best-practices and notes and doodles scribbled or typed out of boredom. I expected power-point presentations full of graphs & charts but lacking in heart & soul–the very thing that drew me to this profession in the first place. On the contrary, this year’s annual Health Science Librarians of Illinois conference, entitled Building Partnerships, was packed full of heart, soul, and quality information. This year’s annual conference, held at the Wyndham hotel, was fun, practical, and most of all: inspiring.

Since returning to work after the Health Science Librarians of Illinois, I am feeling energized. Just the other day, as I was walking back to the Resource Room (library) that doubles as my “office,”I happened to bump into a nursing faculty member who oversees the simulation lab in the building. The simulation lab has a “control”room with audio and visual equipment for observing and monitoring patient-care simulations. I signaled that I was interested in seeing her demonstrate the simulators one day so I could be better informed. “You’re just in luck,”she said. “The students are running a simulation right now.” She invited me in to the control room and opened the door.

As I stood in the control room watching the nursing faculty interact with the future nurses, I was excited to witness a day-in-the-life of the nursing student. I watched as small groups gathered around their manikin patient and deliberated on the course of action. One faculty member, animating the manikin, coughed and said groggily into a microphone: “I feel so siiiick. I think I’m going to pass out!” I could hear female voices asking: do we elevate him? Do we lay him down? The students standing next to me in the control room observed their peers. Other students took notes and pondered.

This one experience has already enriched my relationships with students and faculty and likely endears me to students and faculty as well: they can see that I’m trying to take an interest in what they’re doing. What is even more humbling is the great possibility that these students I serve, many of whom will find work in a local hospital or clinic, will one day care for me or a loved one; so taking an interest in their preparation and contributing to patient care by supporting them becomes my job. It’s the least I could do.

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