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The Public Library Association Conference 2014 – An Indianapolis Experience

Posted by on March 25th, 2014 Posted in: All Posts

By Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, NN/LM SE/A Region

Public librarians are one of my main targets to provide training in helping consumers find and evaluate health information resources, as the Consumer Health Coordinator for the Region. Public librarians have a tougher time when it comes to answering health questions simply because this is only one type of question they receive and they may not have the background or preparation to answer health questions that health sciences librarians often do. Members of the public often don’t know exactly what they want, or perhaps even how to spell the term, unlike health professionals served at health sciences libraries. I attend the Public Library Association conference as often as possible, which is held every other year. I had the pleasure attending this year’s meeting in Indianapolis and serving in the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit booth with my counterpart in Chicago, Samanthi Hewakapuge, Consumer Health Coordinator for the NN/LM Greater Midwest Region (GMR). Attendance helps me to keep up with the world of public libraries and allows me to inform and connect with public librarians who may not be aware of the National Library of Medicine, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) and the multitude of resources and training we have available.

This year’s conference had many great speakers including Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He delivered the keynote address at the opening general session and spoke about challenging the systematic bias against the poor and people of color. His talk at a TED conference in March 2012 inspired the longest ovation in TED history and donations to his organization of over $1 million to help end excessive sentencing of children and to stop the practice of sending kids to adult jails. ( If you’re not familiar with TED talks, I urge you to check it out. TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference, which now covers almost all topics and helps share ideas in communities around the world. He emphasized that libraries enjoy proximity in our communities, which allows libraries the unique position of being able to serve the needs of each community by engaging and hopefully providing hopefulness, which is critical for those in poverty. He spoke about the opposite of poverty, which to him was not wealth, but justice. This reminded me of something I read when I began library school, which was that the public library serves as the “great equalizer.” No matter your economic situation, everyone can use the library to educate themselves and get the information that can make a difference in our lives. One of my favorite things he said was to “choose to do things that make us uncomfortable,” which really resonates with me, as that I’m sure it does for many involved in outreach.

I also had the privilege of attending a “conversation” about providing services and resources for persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their caregivers. I was unaware that the American Library Association has a new interest group of the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies, established to create U.S. guidelines based on the current guidelines of the International Federation of Library Associations. In meeting and connecting with other librarians interested in serving this population, I was able to let them know about the resources from the National Library of Medicine and the NN/LM. I learned about the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) guidelines for library services to persons with dementia and that the Alzheimer’s Association provides public library training for caregivers while the patient attends daycare. For more information about this training, please see the organization’s site:

Finally, I would like to mention an interesting program I attended presented by Michael Stephens. Many of you are familiar with him and his “Tame the Web” blog. He is an Assistant Professor at San Jose State University’s SLIS program. He spoke about MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses, which has interesting potential as a future medium for consumer health training, in my opinion. He focused on MOOCs for public libraries as a potential way for professional development and lifelong learning to occur by gathering the best of the best in a field and offer experiences and exploration of any topic, anywhere.  If you’re interested, you can visit his blog and see the slides for his talk as well as the columns he based parts of his presentation on for the PLA audience:

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