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Reflections From An Outreach Coordinator: Gail’s Grand Adventures

Posted by on September 10th, 2014 Posted in: News From NNLM PNR


GailWaterI think I’m still in a bit of shock that I’ve left the NN/LM PNR after 11.5 years that I can only describe as amazing!  I have moved on to become the Assistant Director for HEALWA – http://healwa.org.  HEALWA is another contract supported program here at the University of Washington Health Sciences Library that provides access for eligible health professionals in Washington State to a suite of evidence-based information resources.   I was asked to write up a little something reflecting on my years as an Outreach Coordinator and perhaps insert a few lessons learned along the way.  So, here we go…

To begin, I should state why I was attracted to doing outreach librarianship with NN/LM in the first place.  My background, prior to becoming a librarian, was as a social worker in long-term care.  I suppose one could say I am a natural caretaker and enjoy helping to connect people with resources they need to make informed decisions.  So, when I learned of the opportunity to reach out to under-served, underrepresented audiences in the Pacific Northwest to promote improved health literacy and access to quality health information resources, I jumped at the chance.  I had the pleasure of being part of a great team of co-workers with whom I shared many adventures over the years.  My very first outreach trip was with Linda Milgrom to northeast Washington state.  We covered a few hundred miles and several counties on that trip!  Most memorable was visiting the Onion Creek Station of the Stevens County Library which is located in the General Store on Wednesday afternoons.  We also crossed the Columbia River on the now defunct tiny Keller Ferry.  I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience in visiting some of the poorest, most rural counties in the state and interacting with health professionals, a hospital administrator, and of course librarians.

Over the years, I had many similar memorable experiences.  Each outreach visit served as a reminder that there is always an opportunity to reach people with information about how to access quality health information resources like MedlinePlus, PubMed, Toxnet, and more.  I learned that your presence is especially appreciated in small, rural communities where library staff members can’t often get out to conferences for training. I also discovered that there is great power in partnership and collaboration.  By connecting with fellow librarians and other colleagues throughout the region, we were able to extend the reach of the goals of the NN/LM: “…to advance the progress of medicine and improve the public health by providing all U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving the public’s access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health.”  The local librarians and members of other organizations can carry the torch forward to continue to spread the word about the importance of access to quality health information. So, what are some of my lessons learned and tips?

  • Connect, connect, connect!  Get to know the people in the region – what their passions and strengths are and how you can work together or equip them to do their best work.  Also, as you get to know people, you can connect them with one another to work together on projects of common interest.
  • Say “yes” when asked to participate in social events such as dinner after a conference day, a walk along the river, or even (yes!) a cattle branding party!  These are golden opportunities to create lasting bonds, but also to increase your credibility as someone who is genuinely interested in getting to know your colleagues both professionally and personally.
  • Don’t assume that everyone now knows all about MedlinePlus or PubMed, or some of the other resources from the National Library of Medicine.  Just because we know it inside and out doesn’t mean that other people do.  And even if they are aware of the resources, it’s a safe bet that there is some feature that they likely don’t know about.  Show them!
  • When you meet someone from a profession with which you may not be too familiar, do some investigation and think of ways your resources and services might dovetail with or overlap with theirs.  Find out about their educational and continuing education requirements and how you might be able to support them.
  • Don’t wait to be asked to table – ask for a seat instead!  There are myriad organizations with committees whose work is complementary to that of the NN/LM.  They may not be aware of what librarians can bring to the conversation.
  • And lastly, remember to balance all of this with self-care – whatever that looks like to you: exercise, good sleep, time with family, etc.  All work and no play…well, you know the rest!

I have been incredibly blessed to have found friends across the U.S. and beyond because of my work with the NN/LM.  I have visited places and seen things I never would have seen if it weren’t for this job such as an Alaska Native village near the Arctic Circle, a totem blessing ceremony in the Lummi community, and the deer and antelope truly playing in the plains of Montana.  I wish all of my colleagues and friends in the NN/LM and the Pacific Northwest Region continued success.  And remember, I didn’t go too far!  I’d welcome hearing from you about your continued adventures in health information outreach.

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Commenting (5)

Thoughts on "Reflections From An Outreach Coordinator: Gail’s Grand Adventures"

Avatar Jane says:

Thank you Gail! We in Seattle are so lucky that you decided to stay close by and look forward to helping you publicize the great and wonderful HEAL-WA. Xxoo

Avatar Bob Pringle says:

Gail, it’s been great working with you, and staffing the occasional booth. Glad to see you in Spokane, or at meetings elsewhere. Your enthusiasm and knowledge helped us all. I look forward to working with you on heal-wa, helping get the word out to nurses in eastern Washington. Best wishes!

Avatar Beth says:

Bob said it right- it really has been great working with you. I hope to see you at MLA and at other regional gatherings. Take care-

Avatar Dolores says:

Gail, It was always fun working and playing with you. Enjoy your new venture!

Avatar LeAnn Gelskey says:

It has been a pleasure working with you! Thanks for all of your assistance, encouragement and support through the years. Good luck!

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