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National Medical Librarians Month: Toan Lam-Sullivan

Posted by on October 14th, 2019 Posted in: Public Libraries

Throughout October, National Medical Librarians Month and also Health Literacy Month, NNLM is featuring Pacific Northwest Librarians and highlighting their commitment to health literacy. This week we shine a spotlight on Toan Lam-Sullivan. Toan is the Bilingual Regional Librarian at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. Multnomah County Library has 20 locations throughout the Portland metro area.

What made you interested in a library career?  When I attended elementary school in Saigon, Vietnam, I frequently visited the tiny school library. However, the books were only available for reading while at the library. After I arrived in Portland, Oregon, as a teenager, my high school teacher took our class on a school field trip to the Central Library. The place was so beautiful, and every floor was filled with books. We were even allowed to borrow books and return them in three weeks. I was completely awestruck and fell in love right there.

While attending Grant High School, my friends and I frequently visited the nearby Hollywood Library. We loved reading about airplanes and sport cars in the library’s collection. We’d read and compare which planes and cars were the fastest and most powerful. One day, while at the Hollywood Library, I made a wish about how wonderful it would be if I was a librarian so that I could read books all day long. Several years later, while attending college, a friend informed me that the Multnomah County Library was hiring; I applied and was hired as a library page at the Hollywood Library, my favorite hangout place with friends!

Five years later, I was promoted to a Bilingual Vietnamese Library Assistant at the Holgate Library. The Holgate administrator talked with me about library school and encouraged me to attend. I applied, was accepted into the Master of Library Science Program and two years later, was promoted to the Bilingual Vietnamese Youth Librarian and currently work as a Bilingual Chinese Regional Librarian.

My love of reading and serendipity led me to become a librarian. I am very grateful to be a librarian and I just want to continue reaching out to patrons, letting them know about our many wonderful library services and resources.

Please briefly describe a favorite health-related library program, activity or service offered by your library. How has the public responded to this program, activity or service? We invited Tai Chi instructors to teach and demonstrate Tai Chi Fan Dance and Tai Chi 24 Form at our Holgate, Midland and Woodstock libraries. Each of these workshops lasted four weeks. After the two Tai Chi workshops ended, patrons continued to request them. However, the cost for inviting instructors over the long term was unsustainable. To make it more sustainable and meet the needs of the community, we asked administration if we could offer a staff-facilitated Tai Chi club. The request was approved.

The purpose of the Tai Chi club is to attract folks who are interested in and want to practice Tai Chi together. Even though there was no formal instructor, a dedicated group came every Wednesday.  Library staff set up the room, laptop and projector and participants shared Tai Chi video clips, which we all followed together to learn and practice Tai Chi movements.

Recently, two Tai Chi instructors, one of whom has been practicing Tai Chi for over 30 years, heard about the club. They’ve been volunteering their time at the Library and generously showing everyone Tai Chi.

Why does health literacy matter to you? As a youngster, I experienced a debilitating illness. I was bedridden and unable to perform many simple, essential tasks. I am very fortunate and grateful because I fully recovered. However, this experience impacted me deeply. I learned to take better self- care and I try to stay as healthy as possible. According to what I understand, health literacy encompasses information on health and wellness, and the ability to make decisions based on what we know. Health literacy matters to an individual and is equally important to a community.

As recent recipients of a Health Literacy Outreach award from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, we’ve been focusing on our Asian communities. Through our award, we are inviting health instructors to the Library and offering health-related programs. We’re also showing members of our Asian communities how to use MedlinePlus and other health and wellness databases. So far, we have been receiving many positive comments from patrons.

Image of the author ABOUT Michele Spatz
Michele is the NNLM All of Us Community Engagement Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest. She has extensive experience providing consumer health information and a passion for health literacy. Michele truly believes, "Because of you, Libraries Transform.®"

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Developed resources reported in this program are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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