THE MARGINAL

vol 15 issue 1

december 2007

An e-zine published by the McGill Library & Information Studies Student Association (MLISSA)

Longwinded introduction to a blog
or
if you can’t find a job, make one (or two) up

by Francesca Frati, MLIS 2005


Despite the fact that I am originally from Montreal, I did not graduate from GSLIS1 at McGill but I did complete the final 4 courses of my MLIS as a part-time visiting student and so am apparently qualified to share my experiences with the readers of The Marginal.

I completed my degree in the spring of 2005 and have had an interesting couple of years since then, culminating in the creation of two erstwhile nonexistent part-time positions at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), and the successful launch of an innovative new service at the hospital’s family medicine clinic, the Herzl Family Practice Centre (HFPC)2.

After almost exactly six months spent searching applying to LIS jobs all over North America and paying the bills with temporary and ultimately unsatisfying non-LIS jobs I got a call from my GP at the Herzl wondering if I had time to spare to help her with a Reference Manager database. So began my (ongoing) career as Information Management Consultant.

Within a few months I was working steadily part-time and had several clients at the Herzl. Aside from entering records into bibliographic databases, I was soon able to support the research activities of the physicians at the clinic by conducting literature searches and editing research papers in preparation for publication, as well as being invited to participate in a research project which involved studying the health information needs and seeking-behaviour of adolescents.

I wish I could remember the exact moment when I had the idea to create an in-house information service for patients and families at the clinic, but I don’t. I only know that the idea jibed with the direction the clinic had been wanting to take with their Patient Education Initiative.

Sometime in the early months of 2006 the Herzl agreed to pay me to write a proposal to conduct a needs assessment. That summer they accepted my proposal and I conducted the needs assessment.

In November of that year the Herzl funded my trip to the Society of Teacher’s of Family Medicine (STFM) Conference on Practise Improvement: Patient Education and Health Information, in Denver, CO, where I presented a poster based on the results3. I was only one of two librarians at the conference and the only one presenting.

You may be wondering at this point what my background is and what courses I took to prepare me for working in the field of medical librarianship 4. I have a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and spent a couple of years studying creative writing. My only exposure to medical databases and MeSH subject headings was in my Information retrieval class at SLIS. Fortunately my teacher had a particular interest in health topics and so many of the examples we were exposed to were very relevant to what I would eventually do. Other courses I found most useful were some of the ones I enjoyed the least while in school. Research methods and Systems come to mind. Information literacy was also extremely useful.

That said, much of the past couple years of working at the hospital have been spent learning on my own about concepts such as Evidence-based medicine (EBM)5 and patient-centered care. Some of this I learned as I conducted searches for physicians, some by reading LIS/medical literature and taking online courses, some of it by osmosis. A large portion of the needs assessment proposal was an extensive literature review. This allowed me to focus much of my time and energy on learning about other key concepts: existing models for the provision of consumer health information, health information needs and seeking-behaviour, use of the Internet to find health information and the effect on this of the digital divide, health information literacy and literacy issues, the doctor-patient dyad, doctor-patient communication, information overload of health professionals etc.

I will say that my background in fine arts and creative writing have stood me in good stead. Many of the skills I learned were transferable. Two of the most important skills I learned at art school that have been particularly useful are:

· creative problem solving i.e. translating an idea or concept into reality.
· critical thinking

I need to backtrack now to that spring of 2006, at which time I was asked by the chief librarian at the hospital library if I would temporarily take a position because her serials tech was going on maternity leave. I was simultaneously asked by the Herzl to take over as Research Assistant as she too was going on mat leave6. In what proved to be an unusual but ultimately wise choice, I chose the lower paying tech position and recommended a friend of mine for the other position.

The chief librarian was happy to let me run with whatever ideas I had (and hers), so long as the serials were in order. By the time my stint as serials tech was coming to an end, I didn’t want to leave and she didn’t want to lose me. Over the course of several months we worked together to propose to the hospital that a new position be created for me at the library. We argued that it was necessary, and in keeping with current and evolving trends in the area of medicine and health information, for a second librarian to be hired at the library in order to meet the increasing need to assist users (health professionals as well as patients and families) to find accurate and up-to-date information. At the same time I was negotiating with the Herzl to begin implementation of the new service.

In the early months of 2007 I was officially hired by both parties. I am now Patient Information Coordinator at the Herzl and Patient Information Specialist and Instruction Librarian at the library7, proving that not only is it possible to create something out of nothing, but, even more miraculously, that the health care system can be changed, maybe just a tiny bit, but still.

Perhaps this goes without saying but I will say it anyway: this particular alchemy is only possible in an environment where change is welcomed (however difficult it almost always is for everyone involved, even when said change is known to be positive), where creativity is fostered and unconventional solutions are encouraged. You may be surprised by the fact (I know I am, having studied both fine arts and creative writing) that, perhaps by necessity, health professionals and librarians are some of the most creative and unconventional thinkers I have so far encountered, and amazingly willing to take risks.

The new Herzl Patient Health Information Service (H-PHIS) opened its doors on the 2nd of July of this year. I have recently started the blog mentioned in the title, which does a much better job of describing the service than a few more paragraphs here could. So without further ado, I present to you the InfoRx Cases blog.

I hope that reading about my experience will encourage those of you who are wondering how the hell you’ll find a job once you graduate (especially here in Montreal, let’s face it) and what the f**k this degree is worth anyway.

1The school I actually graduated from no longer exists. It used to be called Dal SLIS (the Dalhousie School of Library and Information Studies), but once freed from the horrible confines of the large pebble-encrusted windowless concrete cube known as the Killam Library, and welcomed into the comparatively delightful structure of glass and light that is the new Management building, it changed its name to Dal SIM (you guessed it, the School of Information Management). A comparison of the Dalhousie and McGill Library schools is a topic for another day.

2 Once I’m done introducing myself I will provide a link to the blog I created as a companion to this service. Of course you can feel free to skip ahead, or I guess back since this is a footnote.

3In a nutshell it was determined that the health information needs of patients at the Herzl were being met with room for improvement and that the addition of a librarian to the health care team at point of care would help address those needs (the poster compared the responses of patients vs health professionals to one of the questions of the survey).

4I have never been asked this question by my employers, however I did produce a CV after being hired which gave them a sense of my skills and experience.

5 Interestingly EBM and information literacy are very similar. See 5 steps of EBM: www.cebm.utoronto.ca/intro/howpract.htm and 5 steps of Information Literacy: www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlissues/acrlinfolit/infolitstandards/standardstoolkit.cfm

6 I have never met so many people who are married with children as I have at the hospital.

7 I have not spent as much time describing my work at the library partly because it is less unconventional, partly because this piece is supposed to be an introduction to my Herzl blog, and partly because I’ve already gone on long enough.

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