Adelaide Myers Fletcher
Saratoga Elementary School
Several years after moving from a health sciences library to the school library setting, I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with some of my former colleagues again through the NNLM MCR’s K-12 School Partnership Award. This award granted $2,500 to the Saratoga Elementary School Library, where I work, to enhance outreach and improve collaboration between a Network member and a school. There was just one catch: we didn’t really have a nearby Network member. But I had an idea. I thought to myself, “Well, once a medical librarian, always a medical librarian,” and I decided to make the library at the elementary school where I worked a member with myself as the liaison. My partner would be my boss, the librarian at the high school. Over our tenure together, I had told her a lot about my previous life as a medical librarian and she was fascinated, but we never really had time to work together so she could learn more. Here was a way we could afford the time to train her in the basics of consumer health reference, and at the same time increase awareness throughout our community.
Achieving buy-in from our respective principals and health teachers was a no-brainer. Neither of the district nurses had ever asked the library for help in any way and I thought that needed to change. Again, it was easy to convince them to collaborate in order to gain new resources for their teaching efforts.
With a lot of help from Dana Abbey, Colorado/Community Engagement Coordinator, we were able to craft a plan that included materials for the health curricula at both schools. We were also justified in butting into our respective staff meetings with training for teachers. The Parent Teacher Organization, a group of our most dedicated mothers were happy to learn about something that could help them keep their families healthy. Students were not aware that the resources they were “playing with” were grant funded, nor did they care, although some were really interested when I told them I used to be a medical librarian. They all just wanted to have a turn squeezing the pumping heart model and playing “Tox Mystery” at the elementary school, and playing “STD Roulette” and “Substance Abuse Truth or Consequences” at the high school!
Teaching my boss how to be an honorary medical librarian was fun and interesting. I was forced to look at my former career and try to distill it down to the most relevant parts for a consumer health librarian. My other colleagues were interested to learn that there were places where they could find lesson plans already made in the K-12 Outreach web pages. The second grade teacher with a new student from Mexico was excited to learn about MedlinePlus in Spanish. A teacher friend of mine who had recently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer had already been one of my “clients” when I helped her locate several articles about an experimental treatment she was participating in. She was quick to point out that I knew my stuff when I gave a staff lesson even though I was a little rusty, not having taught about the subject in a few years! Did I mention that during my staff meeting while comparing MedlinePlus vs WebMD, a banner ad about erectile dysfunction popped up? You can guess which website it appeared on, and which one they won’t be using if they have to look something up in front of their kids.
Problems encountered were few, but we did discover one hard barrier in our IT department’s flat out refusal to allow us access to Facebook to set up a page about our libraries as a consumer health resource. Our principal had been all for it, in fact the superintendent had recommended it for all of the schools, but still the IT director would not budge. I am certain that this is a problem common to many (though not all) school districts, and I remember well my days as a hospital librarian where social media was strongly discouraged if not outright blocked. Such is life in a publicly funded institution! At least the websites I took the kids to were not blocked because they are .gov or .org for the most part, which tied in nicely with my information literacy lessons over the previous months.
I was also unable to get the elementary school PE teacher to incorporate these new resources into her health curriculum. Even though her office is next door to mine, she seemed disinclined to give over any of her teaching time to something outside of her prescribed curriculum. So instead I decided to make February Heart Month in the library and each class was treated to a discussion of heart health using the handheld models I now had: the pumping heart, that demonstrated how blood moves through the chambers of the heart, and the cartoon, “The Final Chamber” from the Nemours Foundation, which I linked to from MedlinePlus. They were also able to listen to their own and others’ hearts with the three stethoscopes I now had. Funny thing was, when the end of the month rolled around, the PE teacher suddenly wanted me to help with her Hoops for Hearts fundraiser using “my” stethoscopes as a heartbeat monitoring station. I was happy to oblige.
If I had it to do over again, I absolutely would! I found the way the project was structured somewhat frustrating at first (especially the funding model – I wanted to spend more of the funding on books!), but after all was said and done, I really appreciated how the NNLM MCR’s specifications and Dana Abbey’s advice forced me to plan carefully and realistically, and the guidelines helped me maximize the benefit of each dollar spent. One of the greatest benefits has been that the libraries at both schools have a little higher profile now that faculties at both are aware of yet another trick we librarians have up our sleeve! This kind of project really makes for great advocacy at budget time.