APA Librarian Conference Travel Award: Reflections from the Fall 2018 Recipient on the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association

Sigrid Brudie, MLIS of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) received the APA Librarian Conference Travel Award in the fall of 2018. She used the award to defray the cost of attendance at the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association’s (PNC/MLA) annual conference in Spokane, Washington in October. As one of only a handful of medical librarians in Alaska, APA was pleased to help Sigrid pursue this especially valuable opportunity for professional development, networking, and serving the field of librarianship.

Patti Avellanet of the Customer Engagement team for APA’s Databases & Electronic Resources recently talked with Sigrid to get her impressions of the conference. The following transcript of their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and context.

Patti: Hi, Sigrid! The last time we talked, you were excited to be heading to the annual Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association (PNC/MLA) conference. What were your overall impressions?

Sigrid: With 44 attendees, the annual PNC conference was a good size.  All sessions and exhibits were held in a small ballroom in the historic Montvale Hall in downtown Spokane, Washington, allowing easy interaction among attendees, presenters, and exhibitors.  The annual meeting of the national Medical Library Association is much larger (around 2,000 attendees), and one spends a lot of time dashing from one meeting room to another to grab a seat at selected sessions, so there is not as much interaction and dialogue as there was at October’s PNC conference.  At PNC, I was able to get better acquainted with medical library colleagues from the Pacific Northwest and learn about new developments, trends, and challenges in their organizations and communities.

Patti: With such a small number of conference attendees who are engaged and interacting in a single location, it sounds like a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot from your colleagues in a relatively short period of time. Were there any topics that you found especially useful?

Sigrid: I think that overall, the papers presented were very timely, covering much-discussed topics in medical librarianship, including data management and health literacy. Under new leadership, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has made “data-powered health” central to its strategic plan, and the Spokane conference provided an opportunity to learn ways that PNC librarians are meeting this challenge. Those working at larger research universities in Seattle and Spokane have been successful in growing their role in data management, as demonstrated in a presentation by Kathryn Vela (Washington State University) called “Establishing a Research Data Management Service on a Health Sciences Campus.” (Editor’s note: The presentation slides for “Establishing Research Data Management Service on a Health Sciences Campus” by Nancy Shin & Kathryn Vela are freely available on the Providence St. Joseph’s Health Digital Commons website.)

Patti: I imagine that the larger research institutions may be discovering a lot of valuable information about developing an effective data management approach. What a terrific opportunity for medical librarians working at smaller institutions and just starting out with this to learn from their colleagues.

Sigrid: Indeed. And as NLM continues in this direction, I am curious how smaller libraries at non-research institutions will meet the data challenge.  For example, conference attendees included a solo librarian from a small midwifery college in Portland, Oregon, whom I chatted with during the conference.  I did not get a chance to talk with her about how NLM’s data initiative fits with her organization.  My own university in Anchorage is primarily an undergraduate institution with few research programs, and I am still exploring how our medical library fits into NLM’s new emphasis on data.

Patti: You mentioned health literacy earlier, which is an increasingly popular subject in the medical field and related disciplines. Did you get a chance to attend any interesting sessions related to this?

Sigrid: It’s another emerging topic in medical librarianship, and I particularly enjoyed a presentation by Michele Spatz of University of Washington called “Environmental Barriers to Patient Health Literacy in a Comprehensive Mental Health Clinic.”  She discussed specific ways that healthcare facilities can ease patient access to health information, including plain language and signage.

Patti: There is so much potential for medical librarians to uniquely contribute toward improving health outcomes through their efforts to promote health literacy. Were there other aspects of the conference that made the conference as worthwhile as you’d hoped it would be?  

Sigrid: With so few medical librarians in Alaska, I value opportunities to meet with colleagues at regional and national conferences.  This year’s PNC conference did not let me down; it was a valuable experience.  In addition to attending informative paper and poster sessions, I was on the conference planning committee, a new experience for me.  I learned a great deal about the work that goes into a conference regardless of size.  It took a full year for a large committee to plan the PNC conference, and I have a new appreciation for all the moving pieces that go into a successful conference.

Patti: Congratulations on completing your first service to a conference committee! I think many people don’t realize the amount of effort, planning, and time it takes to host a successful conference unless they volunteer to go behind the scenes and see it firsthand. In addition to your new experience in conference planning, is there anything else you learned that stands out in your mind as especially interesting or practical?

Sigrid: I attended a preconference continuing-education class called “Searching Effectively and Efficiently” taught by Oregon Health & Science University librarian Andrew Hamilton.  I learned many advanced PubMed searching techniques I will use in my literature searches for healthcare providers and in my instruction to UAA students and faculty.

Patti: Learning advanced PubMed search strategies certainly seems like an excellent takeaway you can quickly put to good use. It sounds like this is a conference that could benefit many of your colleagues.

Sigrid: Yes, I’d recommend the PNC/MLA conference for all medical librarians in the Pacific Northwest—and nearby regions if possible—since our numbers are small, and any opportunity to share knowledge is vital to the profession.  The next PNC/MLA conference will be in Boise, Idaho, in October 2019, and I encourage all regional medical librarians to attend.

Patti: I’m really glad to hear that you were able to get so much out of this conference experience. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Sigrid: I want to thank the American Psychological Association for providing a library conference travel award. I’m not certain how many health-profession organizations acknowledge and support librarians with this type of award, but I would not have been able to attend the PNC conference without it. Librarians play a significant role in healthcare support, and I truly appreciate APA’s recognition and support of librarians.

Patti: APA is pleased to have supported you in your contribution to the field of librarianship with this travel award. It’s clear that your attendance at the PNC/MLA conference will enhance your work in many ways with UAA students, faculty, and Alaska’s healthcare professionals. Best wishes to you, and thanks so much for talking with me today.

Would you or a librarian you know benefit from receiving an APA Librarian Conference Travel Award?

Now through March 31, 2019, the APA Librarian Conference Travel Award program is accepting applications for conferences taking place from May to August 2019.

The award is intended to help defray conference-related expenses for librarians with less than 15 years of experience after receiving their MLS / MLIS. One cash award is distributed three times each calendar year, and the application cycle opens and closes on a rolling basis. We are not currently limiting the conferences that are eligible for travel award funding. Applicants should identify the conference that best meets their professional needs and explain how attendance will support their current duties and future goals.

Please see the website for more details on eligibility, deadlines, and application materials. Questions about the APA Librarian Conference Travel Award should be directed to librariantravel@apa.org. Please help us spread the word by sharing this information with colleagues and friends who may be eligible!

Patti Avellanet