07 July 2014

A love letter to my very cool profession

I like to think I'm a lucky Librarian, in fact sometimes when I say 'Librarian' I feel a bit of a fraud.  Often times 'special libraries' like medical or corporate libraries are able to be a little less non-traditional, because we're small and we serve a very specific niche organization.  I consider myself lucky (and fraudulent) because the role I'm in now has had some pretty unique opportunities to flex my 'health business' muscles (which I like to do because their some of the only muscles I can take pride in!).

I jokingly commented to a colleague the other day that I wonder how appalled my Library-school-self would have been had I known my day would be filled with spreadsheets and various types of plans and reports.  I love it though because I see the payoff, I already have seen more enthusiasm for the Library (dreams!), and more awareness that we're very multifaceted information professionals lurking under the perceived dated title of 'Librarian'.

So what does all this have to do with anyone who doesn't care about my own nerd-esque information journey? (Although who WOULDN'T be riveted really :) )  Well part of this journey and growth as a professional is expanding my department from supporting the information needs of staff to supporting the information needs or patients, families and our communities in a new Consumer Health Library. Although this expansion into the patient and family side is not unique for a Library, we have the added opportunity of a brand new hospital being built, allowing us to (hopefully) plan the service properly.

During our planning, and through our staff and community consultations I've learned that it's not really about the information itself, THAT is plentiful.  What seems to be the key for everyone is having that information expertise, curating, teaching and guiding individuals through their health journey.  The expert service is the bread and butter: exciting and affirming for a Librarian!  It's here where I catch even myself: why do I need something affirmed that I already know?  I know Librarians are so much more than the cliché!  I KNOW I live and breathe the world of technology, information, knowledge management and information literacy so its both a natural and perfect fit for a health Librarian to extend their role into the consumer, patient and family health information field.  My Library-school-self would have been amazed at all the career possibilities outside of that ‘traditional’ Librarian.

Some other non-traditional Librarians whose Library-school selves may ALSO not have seen their future coming :)
·       Benjamin Franklin
·       Mao Zedong
·       J Edgar Hoover
·       Batgirl

11 November 2013

Information is Beautiful & More Usable!

I've been much more attentive to Twitter lately than my blog, but in a conversation about supplements the other day stemming from a WebMD tweet I pulled out the Snake Oil Supplements infographic created by the site Information is Beautiful and that I've posted here before. 

Image from: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/visualizing-bloodtests/
While on their site I came across this beauty: Visualizing Bloodtests.  This spoke to me on many levels, not only because I LOVE infographics, but mainly because I've been busy at work with things like patient education, health literacy and making complex health information palatable to non-professionals.  A medical Librarian can be great in these conversations because we have one foot in both camps.  Most of us are not formally trained in a health profession (like physicians or nurses) so for example:  I can look at a regular blood test result printout and not really (or at least fully) understand it.  On the other hand, we do work with the terminology and to some extent the everyday use of these things and so I likely have a bit more understanding than someone who's only foray into the healthcare system is when they are sick.  I'm a firm believer in making often highly complex health info and data palatable to the regular reader and this particular way of displaying data has done just that!  Check it out on their website

06 August 2013

Info for the Senses: Beautiful Updates

A big thanks to my colleague Ana Jeremic who sent me this gem the morning after a long weekend.  Hatnote's"Listen to Wikipedia" is actually both a visual and audio representation of updates in Wikipedia as well as user registrations created by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi.  

Screenshot of Hatnote's Listen to Wikipedia

It really is fantastic and beautiful!  Check it out (Firefox, Safari, Chrome): http://listen.hatnote.com/

There's also a 'Hatnote Recent Changes Map'  that is definitely worth a look!

24 July 2013

Wiki Wonder Child: Wikidoc.org

Back in my post-grad I was also a teaching assistant, running a few weekly seminars for first-years. It was a great experience, and I loved my students, but each new group got the same spiel for research: “Do not use Wikipedia”. Don't get me wrong I love Wikipedia, the idea of collaboration and open source knowledge are all things that I can stand behind but for reliable information? It has its obvious flaws.
Moving to the present, the other day I noticed a new follower on Twitter (as you might imagine I'm not wading through thousands of followers so a new addition is easily noted :)). I'm always suspicious when I see that a new follower is a CEO, COO or something with a Chief at the start because I have what I call 'transient gurus', the ones that are a startup health business of some sort or another who add you likely in hope that you will retweet or promote whatever it is they happen to be chief guru of. These people usually always 'unfollow' after about a week, when it's clear I don't really do that sort of promotion, especially when there is usually a cost to the consumer (recall my penchant for collaboration and open source everything). So when I noticed this new follower @CMichaelGibson with the tagline of 'Founder & Chairman' I immediately thought "another transient guru". Then the word wiki and 'copyleft' caught my eye: it turns out he's Founder & Chairman of something called wikidoc.org. My interest was officially peaked.

So off I travelled to his site where I was met with a project all about collaboration, open source information etc. More exciting, it included a robust 'About Us' section highlighting the site’s strengths and weaknesses! Maybe it's a Librarian thing, but this instantly plastered a smile on my face, first thing on a Monday morning. A free, open-source, collaborative resource, tailored to health information in the familiar format of Wikipedia AND it was upfront about its weaknesses? Someone get this girl a coffee and a chair: this is a gem of a find!

There is just so much information on this site, including for health professionals but also (importantly) for patients. You can do a search across the site, dive in via an individual 'Living textbook' or browse by disease, lab tests and more. There is also a rotating section at the bottom of the main page highlighting what section has been updated and by whom! As far as open source collaborative knowledge is concerned this sort of transparency throughout the site is key! Even down to each individual page you can click a 'View History' button on the top right to see exactly who and when that particular section was changed.

Really its only drawback (and I’m grasping here) is that it may not 'look pretty', its colour scheme is pretty monochromatic, it doesn't include a lot of fancy bells and whistles but that's not what you're there for really. Give me a plain-jane site with good content any day over some froufrou fluff site! What's that old adage again? Oh right: don't judge a book by its cover (said every Librarian, always). Check it out for yourselves at www.wikidoc.org and let's appreciate the work of C Michael Gibson (@CMichaelGibson). So to return full circle here I am, years after my "don't use Wikipedia" speech to my students, excited to tell all my trainees and patrons about using this wiki resource!

21 April 2013

Overdone it? Get a Good Dose Quality Rx-Info!

Last night I was invited to re-discover my inner child at a friend's birthday party hosted at an indoor trampoline park.  This confirmed three things:
  1. Trampolines are amazing fun
  2. Trampolines are amazing, high-intensity, exercise
  3. A group of people my age are amazing-ly not built to bounce like we once were
This last point was summed up perfectly while standing in line for the foam pit where you literally bounce off a trampoline into large pieces of foam meant to break your fall. While a group of us 'adults' were congratulating one of our own with a hearty "Amazing" as he hobbled slowly out of the pit clutching his lower back, one young girl about 10 years-old chimed in with a snarky heckle "What amazing? I didn't see anything amazing", then quickly followed it up by a perfect front double twist flip (or something of the sort) into the pit herself!

Finally, if we weren't already acutely aware of our aging bodies surrounded by such young fearless springy things, our evening ended at the pub with at least one complaint per person about "I'm going to feel that tomorrow" or "I think I pulled something". If someone had pulled out a bottle of pain-killers they would have assuredly surpassed the birthday girl in popularity.

Which brings me to the topic of painkillers: those wonderful miracles of modern medicine that allow your body to feel just as youthful as your inner self may be telling you.  It also brings me to one last side-story before I get to the real point.

A few weeks ago I was in a hurry and having discovered my empty bottle of pain-killers and having a particularly bad case of 'computer-back' (a standard occupational hazard of Librarians these days) I quickly purchased some from the pharmacy and gulped down two before running off to my all-day meetings.  Though a temporary fix, it seemed my curse that day to have no long-term relief so I gulped back two more, and so on as the day continued.  Come evening, my pain finally seemed to have subsided, but I noticed I was feeling rather unwell - emptying my bag on the table I discovered that I had been taking 'extra-strength' tablets all day in a dosage I had just assumed was 'regular strength'! Long-story short, after chiding my carelessness, I spent the evening feeling very unwell and unsure whether I should be more worried about my new symptoms.

Lucky for me (and my group of party-friends) there's a tool called RxList: The Internet Drug Index that compiles drug information (brand and generic) for both practitioners and consumers!  Best part?  It's free and available online.  According to their site:
"RxList continuously reviews and updates the site with articles written by pharmacists and physicians and data provided by credible and reliable sources like the FDA and First Data Bank, Inc. to ensure the most accurate and beneficial information is provided."
It's a great tool to look up drugs from A-Z, identify pills and tablets that may have escaped their labelled bottle and look up things like symptoms and side effects.  In the case of my carelessness, I was able to find out that I had reached my maximum dosage for that particular day, but thankfully not too much past so I decided to wait out the effects of my larger-than-normal dose.*

Although it's always good to be careful and cautious about medications, there are times (like a post-trampoline birthday party) where they are legitimately needed.  RxList is a tool that's there anytime and for health practitioner and layman alike to find out exactly what that little magic tablet can do for you, and more importantly, what it can do to you.

*Please note that my story/decision (and the RxList site) is not medical advice, diagnosis or treatment advice of any form and does not replace consulting a doctor.