Collaborative Opportunities for Teaching and Academic Librarian Faculty
Chiehwen Ed Hsu, Ph.D., Lynn F. Johnson, MSIS and Ann N. Brooks, MLS, MBA
Department of Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health
and Gibson D. Lewis (GDL) Health Science Library
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Keywords and Phrases:
Health Information Literacy, Public Health Informatics
Please address correspondence to:
C. Ed Hsu, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy
University of North Texas HSC, School of Public Health
3500 Camp Bowie Blvd. ME1-740.
Tel: (817) 735-5134
Fax: (817) 735-0446
C. Ed Hsu is assistant professor of health management and policy, University of North Texas School of Public Health, where he coordinates the Master of Public Health in Health Informatics. He received PhD, MS and MPH from the University of Texas at Houston.
Lynn F. Johnson is the special projects librarian with the GDL Library and an instructor in the Department of Education. She serves as Project Director for the OSTMED® database project. She received the MS in Information Science in Medical Informatics from the UNT.
Ann N. Brooks is assistant professor with the department of education and associate director of public services for the GDL Health Science Library. She earned the Master of Library Science from University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Texas Christian University.
The recent development of public health informatics as an interdisciplinary field, and the dissemination of this body of knowledge, have brought forth new opportunities for collaboration between the faculty of health sciences and academic library. This paper explores the potential areas for collaboration, describes empirical collaborative projects between these two parties in enhancing the information literacy of public health discipline in a major health science center, and discusses the lessons learned, including the opportunities and challenges associated with the collaboration.
According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, information literacy is a set of competencies that enables individuals to recognize needs for information, and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information effectively. General information literacy is an important attribute in achieving lifelong learning, because it contributes to informed decisions based on critical reasoning and thinking. On the health spectrum and as a subset of information literacy, health literacy relates to the degree to which people can obtain, understand and process basic health information and services, and then act on appropriate health decisions. It is one of the crucial, enabling capabilities that could contribute to the realization of the goals of Healthy People 2010 as stipulated by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By comparison, both definitions of literacy address the acquisition of information when needed, assessment of information with scientific facts and expert advice as the knowledge base, and utilization of the results of the combined actions to execute knowledge-based strategies leading to informed decisions, such as the choice of a healthy lifestyle.
Public health informatics is a discipline that applies information technology to public health science. By this definition, the faculty of the School of Public Health (SPH) conducts teaching, research and community services widely involving public health informatics. These may include using relational databases to store the results of survey questions, presenting epidemiological data using the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), analyzing various potential socio-biological risk determinants of health disparities, and recommending scarce health resources allocation based on computer-assisted analysis.
For formally structured graduate courses, the training modules of health informatics are usually prepared for graduate students in a classroom setting. The training modules are not specifically designed to transform discipline-specific attributes of knowledge to general competencies, nor to deliver the terminology-ridden scientific research to an audience of general literacy level. Therefore, it is desirable to strengthen the collaboration between full-time public health faculty and library faculty, in order to disseminate technically-oriented training modules to a wider audience.
1.3 Collaboration: bridging the great divides
By convention, classroom faculty members have not been interacting with academic library faculty at an extensive level until recently. Articles have been written about the “tension” between academic librarians and classroom faculty. Carpenter  contends that an “enmity” exists between classroom faculty and academic library faculty. Kotter  claims that the tension and the lack of interaction are the “great divides” to be bridged. In seeking potential causes of such tension, Ren  observes that the phenomenon arises from classroom faculty perceiving library faculty as inexperienced in conducting research and teaching and not as “academic equals” at work. Owusu-Ansah  attributes the “latent tension” in the relationship to the observation that teaching faculty “would have little to do with the library and have little respect for the academic librarians”.
Notwithstanding these contestable arguments, collaboration could expand the synergistic opportunities that would further the mission of academic enterprise. In his proposal to “bridge the great divide”, Kotter  suggests that the improved association between faculty and library faculty would enhance librarians’ ability to promote and support research among classroom faculty, while allowing the librarians to actively participate in the enterprise of scholarship. Farber perceives that the true benefits of collaboration are the mutually reinforced and shared visions between classroom faculty and librarians. The classroom faculty objectives are to help students attain a better understanding of the course subject matter. The library faculty objectives are to enhance the students’ ability to find and evaluate information which in turn enhances the students’ understanding of the subject matter and contributes to their life long learning skills.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) and medical librarians have also recently focused attention on the public’s need for health information. As mentioned previously, portal websites have been developed that provide reliable health information from the government. In addition, NLM provides free access to MEDLINE plus® that includes MEDLINE and quality, up-to-date drug information, encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories and clinical trials. To emphasize consumer health information, NLM provides consumer health and public health information grants through its National Networks of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), a network of 4,500 health science libraries. NLM’s online training programs prepare medical librarians to use its products and services and in turn the medical librarians train others – public health professionals, hospital medical staff, residents and interns, and public librarians.
Portal websites/toolboxes offer convenient access to reliable health information at the users’ fingertips, as they provide “one-stop-shopping” convenience for accessing and acquiring accountable health information with ease. These websites allow quick updates on reliable and time-sensitive health information. These strengths are particularly crucial in time of urgency, and may therefore reduce the public’s anxiety in the events of uncertainty.
2.2 Community health monitoring systems
In the United States, concerted interests are matched by rigorous efforts to develop health information systems for monitoring purposes at both the national and local levels. According to Furukawa, there were about 500 Community Health Information Networks that closely monitored health across the nation in 1996. A survey conducted by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children indicated that nationwide at least 115 Community Health Report Cards were profiling community health in 1999, including the Community Health Status Indicators that are provided by CDC. To make the community health profile more accessible to the general public, some CHMS also present health outcomes in a Web-based or GIS-enabled format (examples include Community Health Information Systems of Houston and MICA in Missouri). CHMS emphasize various determinants of health ranging from environmental factors, income, and race to motor vehicle crash prevalence. The CHMS intend to provide accountable health information, including health indicators and outcome measures to quantify community health performance and to promote public awareness. The systems help the public to access community health profiles, provide a knowledge-base for community health initiatives, and seek to narrow health disparities in the nation.
The collaboration between public health faculty and academic library faculty seems both logical and intuitive. Both focus on public interest, and seek to fulfill teaching and service roles to enhance health literacy delivery and utilization. The relationship between both parties may be improved by joint involvement in promoting health informatics literacy in at least three levels of professional interactions: curriculum development, instructional design, and classroom instruction. In delivery of public health informatics literacy, faculty members are qualified content-providers in their respective subject disciplines, so they can focus on the information assessment. Librarians can contribute professional assistance in instructional design, such as polishing course modules to be more content-and-setting specific, and clarifying the vocabulary and concepts for the general public to digest and utilize.
aforementioned two public health informatics initiatives underline the need and
opportunity for a collaborative effort:
in acquiring accountable health information and the production of portal
websites/toolboxes, faculty members may serve as content-providers; while many
academic librarians are comparatively well-versed with web-authoring
technology, they may provide assistance on instructional design, such as web
development and maintenance. In the case of producing CHMS, faculty members may
be responsible for assessing health data and conducting analysis, while
academic librarians may assist in teaching the outcomes databases, querying
data or results in response to users’ request, prioritizing and presenting
information in a content-specific and culturally-appropriate manner to the
general public. In terms of utilization,
librarians also may facilitate the process of information delivery. The goal of
a public service librarian is to identify pertinent information based on the
specific consumer requests and supply the most relevant materials regardless of
format, as well as current bibliography of additional items for the consumers’
3. Collaborative projects in action in a health science center
The following outlines two collaborative projects between SPH faculty and academic library faculty in a major Health Science Center (HSC). The collaboration intends to make health information more accessible to the general public and to strengthen existing graduate programs.
3.1 Center for Health Informatics and MPH in Health Informatics
In 2001, the HSC President requested that the HSC plans an initiative to create a Center for Health Informatics. This collaborative project involved a team of health information practitioners, including faculty in the Library and SPH faculty members. The purpose of the Center is to support teaching, interdisciplinary research, and community services of the academic enterprise. The Center seeks to improve student education by articulating and efficiently fulfilling their information needs, and to augment current instruction efforts at HSC by offering separate courses in information seeking and informatics. The Center seeks innovative methods of information integration and provision, and serves as a focal point for collaboration between the Library, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Medical School and SPH. The Center serves as a community outreach center for other organizations in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex area, and as a center for health informatics research and outreach in a multistate region.
In addition to the Center, an MPH program with a concentration in health informatics was established in SPH. The new MPH program joins thirteen other health informatics programs in this country. This program enrolled its first cohort of students in fall 2002. Major teaching and research areas include public health data analysis and interpretation, the GIS and spatial analysis in public health, and the design and evaluation of hospital information systems. Central to the program is the adoption of the courses jointly offered by the SPH and the Library.
3.2 Information Access for public health professionals
In the summer of 2002, the Library, SPH, Office of Professional and Continuing Education (PACE), and local health department responded to a National Library of Medicine (NLM) RFP (“Information Access for Public Health Professionals”) with a proposal to improve public health information literacy. The project proposal seeks to assess the needs of public health professionals who would be best served by NLM and CDC products, to enhance the accessibility of health information through training development and delivery, and to produce a public health website portal.
· Needs Assessment
In this project, a statistically significant sample of public health department directors in target Public Health Regions will be surveyed to assess users’ familiarity and accessibility of NLM, CDC and other public health databases. The survey will 1) establish what information resources are of interest, and 2) if users are interested in a free or low cost training program targeted at public health officials focusing on accessing reliable and authoritative health information and research. The survey will serve to publicize the development of the Public Health Informatics Training Program and to build enthusiasm among relevant parties. The survey will be jointly developed by PACE, SPH, and will be conducted by the local health department.
· Training Program Development and Delivery
A training program will be developed based on the results of the needs assessment. Different educational formats that incorporate adult learning principles will be included in the curriculum. The Library, PACE, and local health department will jointly develop the program. Once developed, the training modules will be offered to health departments throughout north Texas. The four hour session will be conducted at departments with training centers and incorporated into PACE activities. A suitable education facility will be sought for departments without training centers, and three sites will be chosen. Training activities will be accredited to award continuing education credit for certified health educators, registered sanitarians, physicians and nurses by PACE.
· Web-based Portal
A web portal will be developed to provide access to all databases and resources discussed in the Training Program. The web portal will allow registration into an optional email list and monitored bulletin board. Those participating in the email list will receive updates and notices about the website and will be emailed continuing education vignettes that will require visiting the website to claim credit. Officials from the local health department, SPH faculty members and others will create training emails/alerts. The first will cover NLM and CDC resources. The monitored bulletin board will allow registered professionals the ability to post questions related to public health and to receive replies from pre-screened and authorized health officials. The local health department will monitor the bulletin board and the web portal will be maintained beyond the project period by PACE.
· Training Program Promotion/Publicity
The Public Health Informatics Training Program will allow information access for public health professionals. It will be promoted through 1) the initial Needs Assessment Survey interaction, 2) exhibits and educational sessions at Public Health Meetings, 3) listing on the PACE website and calendar, 4) letters of invitation to Public Health Department Directors, 5) the elective Track in selected CE activities by PACE, 6) existing Health Alert Networks, 7) Department of Health “Resources and Information Digest”, and 8) health educators email lists.
The above examples demonstrate recent initiatives in promoting public health informatics, and illustrate how faculty and academic library faculty may work together to enhance information acquisition and assessment. After completing the collaborative projects, we identified additional areas for collaboration and potential challenges in practice. One potential area includes adding literacy programs such as introductory informatics courses for first year students of health sciences. Another includes the need for establishing a Writing Center to prepare students in academic communication and to assist local health authorities to prepare for grant writing. The functions may be efficiently carried out with a faculty-librarian synergistic collaboration. Challenges are primarily the motivation for faculty involvement. In designing collaborative activities, consideration needs to be given to the tenure and promotion criteria (i.e., teaching, research or community services) of faculty members so that faculty participation as an institutional commitment can be assured, and sufficient release time be requested and dedicated to participation.
In summary, the enhancement of public health informatics literacy is an endeavor of substantial magnitude. Since health literacy has been shown to be associated with population health outcomes, it therefore warrants strengthened collaborative effort between academic librarians and classroom faculty to address the unmet needs. The collaborative projects are mutually-rewarding, and hold promise to take the health information literacy and well-being of the general public to the next level.
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