The Role of Communication in Librarianship and One Health

As a blogger for the Educational Technology and Media Section (EMTS), I will try to recap the key ideas that I took from today’s sessions.

This was my first full day at an MLA conference, and I was blown away. The big theme of the day for me was communication. The day opened with the New Members breakfast session, where Lucretia McClure, former MLA president and one of its most respected members, emphasized that in fulfilling the librarian’s charge, face-to-face interaction is critical and, in a time when computers are dominant, people are still important. This is a key point for us to consider when we are developing and employing technologies. Our patrons are best served when we are able to provide direct human interaction.

In the John P. McGovern Award Lecture, ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor Richard Besser illustrated the power of storytelling in communicating factual data. Without a meaningful context, there is no engagement, no reason to retain a particular fact. Meaningful context provides a structure upon which to hang a fact and reveals its significance. He also emphasized the importance of librarians in identifying and promoting fact-based health resources. I don’t know that storytelling is the right means for librarians to communicate factual data (though after the opening plenary session, I’m thinking it would be awesome to put it in verse), but I can see the value of placing facts within meaningful context.

In the informal meeting, “The Library Without Walls”, which covered the move of the John Hopkins University Library out of the Welch Library Building, highlighted numerous ways in which librarians can improve communication with patrons in spite of a fragmented physical presence on campus. On demand library instruction can be provided through brief, conversational videos, library news can be delivered via dynamic interviews and multimedia, and virtual office hours can be achieved through chat. Internal communication can be assisted over large distances through readily available video conferencing. Low-tech outreach strategies include publishing articles in departmental communications and setting up tables at campus events. What struck me was how useful many of these techniques can be for libraries even when they have a stable point of physical presence.

My day concluded with the program session, “Linked Data: Lessons Learned from International Bioinformatics Hubs”, which indicated how we, as librarians, can create standardized contexts into which computers can place massive quantities of data so that we can perceive previously unrecognized patterns and relationships. Through initiatives such as Semantic Web and Linked Open Data, we are able to establish a structure to help computers detect and reveal these relationships with tools such as visualizations and contextual filters. Also, resources such as the Canary Database make clear the need for this capability in our efforts towards One Health. This database, which seeks to identify and categorize research relating to the link between naturally occurring health events within the animal population and risks to human health, would greatly benefit from a standardized framework to allow computers to mine the massive amounts of existing research data for relevant studies. The better we understand the relationship between the environment, animal health, and human health, the better we will be able to conceptualize and communicate the importance of One Health.

All in all, it was an exceptional day at MLA ’13, and I’m looking forward to what the next has to offer.

This entry was posted in One Health, Plenary Sessions, Speakers by Keith_Engwall. Bookmark the permalink.

About Keith_Engwall

Keith Engwall (@librariandad) is the Web and Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine Library in Rochester, MI. His interests are in finding better ways to communicate, collaborate, and access resources through technologies such as mobile platforms, social media, and open source software. He is still not entirely accustomed to writing about himself in the third person.