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Public Libraries Spotlight: Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, Business and Reference Librarian, Portage District Library

Posted by on October 30th, 2017 Posted in: Public Libraries, Public Libraries Spotlight
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BA English (Honors), Georgetown University
BA Government, Georgetown University
MLIS iSchool at the University of Washington

How did you become interested in focusing on Health and Wellness?

I have always had an interest in biology and health sciences. I roomed with nursing students in college and hung out with pre-meds. I have worked for health insurance programs in both patient and provider customer service, so I needed to learn medical terminology for those positions. In iSchool, I was fortunate enough to be able to enroll in an amazing health reference class.

Why is health literacy important in your community?

It is especially vital now because over the last few decades the patient has had more of a role in healthcare decision-making. Years ago, the doctor pretty much told you what to do. Now the doctor will often say, what do you think you want to try? And the patient is kerflummoxed. S/he’s not a doctor or nurse. Further, in the time of fast appointments at the clinic, sometimes you may need to ask about something—but you do not even know what to ask. I believe that one of the librarian’s most important functions is to teach people enough that they can ask informed questions of their doctor, lawyer, accountant, or investment broker. These days, people need to act as their own health advocates, and they need current, authoritative information to do that effectively.  That’s where librarians come in.

Also, as a breast cancer survivor who benefited from early detection, I know that getting the word out there about testing etc. is crucial. It has become personal for me. Libraries can play a role in that.

What’s different with a health reference interview?

Well, first of all, chances are the patron may be upset or worried. They or a loved one has been diagnosed with something, or a condition that has been stable is worsening, or they are thinking they might be about to find out something bad at a checkup. They either need to understand the implications of a diagnosis, and they need to be able to understand enough to understand the doctor. People may hold it together at the physician’s office and then leave the appointment in a daze with very little memory of what occurred there.  Second, these may not be regular library users, but people who feel forced by their circumstances to seek assistance at the library—crisis reference, if you will. Therefore, the library itself may be more unfamiliar to them. They can be defensive because they feel uninformed. And, of course, the subject matter of the reference interaction is often more private in nature. You may want to walk away from the desk with them, or motion for them to come around to see the screen with you. You, the librarian, may be the first person they told, even before their loved ones, because they want to have a grasp of it before they talk to them. I try to give them a few printed articles or fact sheets, possibly a book or two and introduce them to Medlineplus  and our health databases. I assure them that over time they can master the information and that if they get to the point that they need information that I can’t provide, I have colleagues who can.

What’s the impact that you hope to make in your community?

One person at a time, I am hoping to get my patrons to reliable sources of health information and teach them to come to the library for help. There is SO MUCH BAD HEALTH INFORMATION on the internet.

What is your favorite health-related program or outreach that you’ve done? 

I put together what I call “Diagnosis Bags” which are tote bags of resources that check out for 6 weeks. I started out with conditions that can sometimes be controlled by lifestyle and diet instead of medication, like Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension. I put together books on the condition, cookbooks for the dietary interventions, a mindfulness book recommended by the APA—because any formation of a new habit can only be helped by mindfulness, and sometimes something like relaxing music, a walking tape, or a yoga video—here is the description for the one on Diabetes. I added a page of complementary links (again, the example is for diabetes). The six-week checkout period will reinforce the initial formation of a new set of habits—or that is the idea. People seem to really like them. I will be adding more over time.

Image of the author ABOUT Bobbi Newman
Bobbi's professional background includes work in public libraries. She currently serves as a member of the Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP) American Library Association (ALA) Advisory Committee. In the past, she has served as an ALA-Councilor-At-Large and on a variety ALA committees. In 2011 she was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal. She divides her time between her dog, reading fantasy and nonfiction, playing video games, and gardening.

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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant Number 1UG4LM012346 with The University of Iowa.

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