Supporting Information Literacy in the Health Sciences

Posted by Raymond Pun on 12/13/18 10:14 AM

First Year Experience, Library Instruction

By Anna Yang and Raymond Pun

Today, health sciences education programs are growing rapidly across the United States. As a result, there are more opportunities to work as a health sciences librarian teaching and supporting information literacy in disciplines like nutrition, physical therapy, nursing, public health, and pharmacy. In this interview, librarian Anna Yang shares her experiences supporting information literacy in this expanding field.

Ray: Thanks for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your role as an instruction librarian and how you incorporate information literacy in your workshops?

Anna: I currently co-teach with two other faculty members in the Biostatics and Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) course, which is taught in the spring semester of the first year. The portion I teach in this class includes evaluating drug information resources, PubMed searching, a research paper, and reference management. Each semester has been relatively different in how I have approached the course. I incorporate ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy and evidence-based practice to create materials and in-class activities. The research paper (drug information paper) is meant to touch on three frameworks from ACRL: authority as constructed and contextual, research as inquiry, and searching as exploration.

This requires students to explore a clinical question/topic (e.g. the risks of systemic toxicity associated with corticosteroid nasal sprays) by conducting research, evaluating the findings, and building a case to answer the question. This also helps prepare students for future courses that require them to answer drug information questions and make appropriate drug recommendations. I also meet with students individually and offer consultations as well as one-shot workshops.

Ray: That is interesting that you are integrating ACRL Framework into your specialized instruction area. What are some challenges you face when supporting information literacy for the health sciences? 

Anna: There are many challenges I face as a solo health sciences librarian trying to support health information literacy. One of those challenges is that my background is not in health. I came with a degree in history, eight plus years of experience working with kids, and one-year managing a collection in a grape and wine library. This doesn’t scream health literacy one bit, but it does tell you one thing: I have the ability to learn anything. Sometimes, I get self-conscience about my ability to perform well in the area of biomedical and health-related topics. Because of this, I have worked toward understanding the different health-related resources and how they can be used to answer clinical questions. Oftentimes, I do self-learning at home or when I’m not at work. It does take quite a bit of time and dedication but if I’m going to support something, I should invest time into knowing it.

I recently received my Academy of Health Information Professional (AHIP) credential through the Medical Library Association (MLA). This credential signifies that I have met a standard of professional education, experience, and accomplishment that demonstrates my commitment to the profession. I am also a solo health sciences librarian so I manage all aspects of the library. Teaching isn’t the bulk of my responsibilities so I do not get enough time to work on honing my teaching skills as well as my ability to deliver the topics that touch on information literacy. My session in EBM is my only formal touch point with the students. Oftentimes, they have to seek me out for help. Usually, this is last minute and the opportunity to turn this interaction into a great learning experience can be hit or miss. I would like more time to be more “faculty” than “administrative” but at the same time, it’s a real struggle when links are not working and systems are down. I get pulled in so many directions that sometimes, supporting health information literacy slips off my purview.   

Ray: I definitely see you dedicated and committed to this important work! Do you recommend any resources for instruction librarians to consider when thinking about health sciences?

Anna: If you are a health sciences librarian and plan on being one for a while, my suggestion is to pursue your AHIP. In my own experiences, my journey through AHIP allowed me to delve deeper into health information literacy as well as opened me up to different aspects of the health sciences. AHIP will force you to start looking at different avenues and because of that, I would highly recommend pursuing this credential. You can also attend webinars through MLA but they can be a bit pricey. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) also provides amble trainings, both live and online, and most of them are free. There are so many resources out there but I found these three to be the most practical and useful for me:

Anna Yang, MLIS, AHIP is the Health Sciences Librarian at California Health Sciences University. She is a solo librarian, co-teaching in the Biostatistics and Evidence-Based Medicine course. Due to the small size of her university, Anna is able to work closely with the faculty, students, staff, and administration. Anna is a member on the Curriculum Committee which allows her to be part of the curriculum building process. Her passion lies in engaging patrons with useful information that helps them make appropriate decisions. A first-generation Hmong American and the youngest of nine, she was the first in her family to graduate with her Master’s degree.


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