Improving access to trustworthy health information
By Jeff Carlton
A UNT Health Science Center team is working to improve access to authoritative health information for 40 million Americans who live in Texas and surrounding states after securing a vital new role in a national network of medical libraries.
Under a new grant, the Gibson D. Lewis Health Sciences Library will serve as one of eight regional medical libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The network’s mission is to equalize and enhance access to health information for everyone – from clinicians to patients.
The five-year, $6.2 million grant from the National Library of Medicine begins May 1.
“Lewis Library will be the focal point of a massive outreach program that works directly with clinicians, community groups and the general public to provide tools to access appropriate and reliable health information,” said Lisa Smith, the new Executive Director. “It’s a universal need that all of us will have at some point in our lives.”
Lewis Library will work with 17 resource libraries and dozens of community groups to coordinate, support and fund programs in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico – a five-state region that has some of the nation’s lowest rates of health literacy and highest rates of poverty.
Such programs include partnering with county public health departments to provide nutrition classes at community centers, or training firefighters and other first responders to use mobile devices preloaded with critical information about hazardous materials. In an outreach program started at Lewis Library last year, UNTHSC provided technology and classroom support for 34 community health workers from an organization that provides health certifications in Spanish.
Other health programs involve migrant farm workers in Texas and Arkansas and Native American tribal medicine in Oklahoma and New Mexico, Smith said.
The network’s emphasis on outreach and education fits with the Health Science Center’s mission of finding solutions to health problems affecting the Fort Worth community, said Dan Burgard, Director of Lewis Library. But the reach of the network will expand the university’s footprint and help it reach more people.
“This sort of community outreach and engagement is right in the wheelhouse for UNT Health Science Center,” Burgard said. “It makes our institution – and by extension, Fort Worth – a hub of health information and technology that will affect millions of people.”
Work to ready Lewis Library to serve in its news role is nearly complete. A UNTHSC facilities team is renovating office and conference space on the third floor of the library.
On the personnel front, Smith has moved over from her position as Associate Director of Lewis Library, and Outreach Librarian Myriam Martinez-Banuelos will become the regional library’s Consumer Health Outreach Coordinator. Two additional librarians will focus on health professions, technology, health literacy and big data.
The National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest biomedical library, used by millions of people annually. It supports and conducts research, development, and training in biomedical informatics and health information technology. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine has 5,600 members, led by the eight regional libraries, 125 resource libraries and more than 5,000 other libraries located primarily in hospitals and clinics.
Prior to becoming a regional medical library, Lewis Library had long served a 24-county region of Texas as a resource library. The other regional medical libraries in the national network are University of Massachusetts, University of Pittsburgh, University of Maryland, University of Iowa, University of Utah, University of Washington and UCLA.