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Reflections on Graphic Medicine and Medical Libraries

Posted by on April 17th, 2021 Posted in: Advocacy, Funding, Graphic Medicine, NLM Products, PubMed
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by Renée A. Torres, MLIS
San Jose State University

Diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), antiracism, and social justice are buzzwords in higher education and libraries right now. However, as a new graduate from San José State University’s School of Information, I am keenly aware that library and information science (LIS) professionals must actively work toward making these terms actionable. How do we situate ourselves in these conversations and activities? Through my research project for the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Pacific Southwest Region (PSR) BIPOC LIS Student Professional Development Award, I have discovered Graphic Medicine can be used in healthcare and health sciences education to help nurture culturally competent care and empathy.

Increasingly, libraries are building up their Graphic Medicine collections and making them accessible and discoverable. For example, during my internship, fall 2020, at University of Southern California’s (USC) Norris Medical Library I began my investigation into Graphic Medicine and ultimately proposed the creation of a research guide on the topic. The research guide aimed to define Graphic Medicine, pull together titles from across the USC Libraries, provide recommended search terms, and additional resources. While building the guide I focused on highlighting diverse experiences and health conditions that are often stigmatized, ranging from antiracism to eating disorders, and HIV/AIDS. I felt it was important to organize the titles by these topics as a way to show users the wide array of topics and perspectives rather than assuming connections.

Coinciding with the development of this research guide, I applied to and was awarded the newly created Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Pacific Southwest Region (PSR) BIPOC LIS Student Professional Development Award. This award, mentorship, and support encouraged me to continue my research and apply to conferences. Many Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color LIS students and new professionals lack the funding and support to conduct research and attend conferences – myself included. The award reaffirmed that I am pursuing a career and research that is valued and needed. Also, connecting with the other awardees was empowering and motivating as we all pursued different research topics but we connected by our dedication to education and outreach to underserved communities.

With renewed vigor, I utilized PubMed to discover ongoing research by LIS and healthcare professionals about the use of Graphic Medicine in health science education and library programming and outreach. In particular, a number of recent studies have shown that medical humanities, including Graphic Medicine, can provide health science students and clinicians with space and time to learn, reflect, and reconnect with how patients and their caregivers experience health and wellness holistically. Engaging with Graphic Medicine also allows room for reflection on their own educational and professional experiences. One area that needs more research, and potential support, is how Graphic Medicine can be used to create open dialogues surrounding inequity, racism, and social justice in healthcare. In my preliminary research into works related to these topics the same authors, such as Whit Taylor, are the main sources for comics related to black health and wellness. More intersectional titles and studies are needed to understand how Graphic Medicine can be an effective tool for DEI education.

In the future, after securing a health sciences library position, I hope to continue my research on Graphic Medicine and develop more programming and outreach. I would like to develop a book club similar to NNLM’s New England Region (NER) Book Club Kits, Graphic Medicine art therapy sessions for health science students, creating library exhibits, and developing interdisciplinary relationships with art and health science students and faculty.

Image of the author ABOUT Zoe Pettway Unno
Zoe is an Education and Outreach Librarian with the NNLM PSR at UCLA.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012341 with the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library.

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