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March 30, 2017

Library Insider: HSLS community outreach



What does teaching workshops at a 4-H convention in western Pennsylvania have to do with Health Sciences librarians from Falk Library? And how about organizing a disaster summit with first responders and public librarians in the state of Delaware? These and other outreach activities are all part of a day’s work for librarians in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Middle Atlantic Region (NNLM MAR).

With funding from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Pitt’s Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) leads the NNLM MAR. Our region, one of eight in the country, covers New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and includes more than 1,100 member hospitals, schools, libraries, community-based organizations and agencies. Membership is free.

The mission of the organization is to advance the progress of medicine and improve public health by:

• Providing all U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and

• Improving the public’s access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health.

As executive director of our MAR staff, Kate Flewelling is assisted by three librarian-coordinators, Michelle Burda, Lydia Collins and Elaina Vitale, with a fourth currently being recruited. They have a hectic schedule of travel, in-person and online teaching, exhibiting at regional meetings, and outreach to network members and potential members. Because the National Library of Medicine produces more than 200 databases — ranging from PubMed (an index of the world’s biomedical literature), and MedlinePlus (information aimed at patients and the general public), to human genome resources and information for first responders in disasters — the training we provide attracts librarians, health professionals, researchers, public health workers and the general public. Because we are federally funded, all training is free.

MAR’s annual $1.2 million budget includes approximately $300,000 for small awards that go to network members for their own outreach projects to special populations such as youth, veterans and senior citizens, or to support library technology improvements and professional development.

Below are some of the projects that we’ve funded in western Pennsylvania:

• Clinical eCompanion (, which was developed by HSLS librarians, is a point-of-care information tool that links health professionals who do not have access to costly subscription databases to free and reliable e-resources for clinical decisionmaking and patient education.

• The Family Table is a program of Focus on Renewal, a community-based organization in McKees Rocks. Families attend together and learn how to prepare healthy meals. NNLM MAR funding supports integration of MedlinePlus ( information on food safety, nutrition and healthy meal planning into adult and children’s activities.

• Advance African Development has developed and implemented an interdisciplinary health literacy program in Pittsburgh Public Schools over the past three years. The program is integrated into the schools’ health curriculum and includes not only training on MedlinePlus but also experiential and community service projects to promote health equity and exposure to health careers.

• Allen Place Community Services is providing health promotion services to underserved populations living on Pittsburgh’s North Side, as well as in Clairton and Monessen. Along with their blood pressure screenings and lifestyle mentoring, participants are trained on how to find reliable health information on the internet.

• Through partnerships with the local YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a six-week science outreach program offered low-income, underserved youth an opportunity to learn about science, research and health.

To learn more about the NNLM MAR, visit our website at

Barbara A. Epstein is the director of the Health Sciences Library System in addition to serving as the director of the NNLM-MAR.

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