The abuse of opioids (both prescription and illegal) is a major public health crisis in the US. The Centers for Disease Control describe how 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and the number of opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. More overdoses are occurring at public libraries, which leads to the question: what roles should librarians have in helping to prevent and treat opioid abuse?
Public Libraries Preventing and Treating Overdoses
A coworker recently shared a fantastic article with me from American Libraries (a publication of the American Library Association) by Anne Ford, called “Saving Lives in the Stacks.” The article describes how many public libraries are taking active steps to prevent overdoses onsite, such as:
Monitoring public bathroom use (to prevent overdoses in restroom stalls).
Training staff to administer Narcan (generic name naloxone), a medication that can reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose while waiting for emergency services to arrive.
Public librarians often take on a wide variety of roles, ranging from teacher to program planner, but do librarians also need medical training to act as first responders? This question raises legal and ethical issues beyond what I’m able to answer myself, but there is one role that I’m confident librarians can fill during this public health crisis: as information providers.
Information on Opioid Addiction and Treatment
Medical, academic, and public librarians are working to create a range of online information tools for both the general public and for healthcare professionals on preventing and treating opioid addiction:
Public Libraries: Some public libraries also provide LibGuides or online lists about opioid prevention and treatment resources (especially information on local resources), such as the Westport Library in Westport, CT or the Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA.
Public librarians, especially those who have to handle actual overdoses and even provide emergency medical treatment, are true heroes in this battle, and all libraries (including academic and medical) can work to provide reliable information to the public and healthcare professionals on prevention and treatment resources for opioid addiction.
I just attended my first Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual Meeting (this year in Seattle, WA), and I came away with a lot of great new ideas, resources, and news from the health sciences information field. I’m still trying to absorb everything I’ve seen and learned over the past few days, but here’s a quick list of some of my most interesting takeaways from the conference:
Open Access Biomedical Journals – The vendor hall offered me the opportunity to explore the online tools and publications available from a variety of biomedical publishers, and I checked around for any open access resources they offered. A few open access publications and resources I came across include:
The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) recently released a new portal, NNLM RD3: Resources for Data-Driven Discovery. The portal offers subject primers on data science topics, resources for managing/storing/sharing data, and professional development opportunities related to data science.
LibGuides to Explore – I find LibGuides very useful, so I kept an eye out during the poster sessions for any interesting projects related to LibGuides. Two fantastic LibGuides I learned about:
Mobile Resources for Health from the University of Florida – Learn about health-related apps, ranging from apps for healthcare professionals (clinical apps, administrative/productivity apps, E-journal and literature database apps, etc.) to apps for patient education. The LibGuide is mobile-friendly, so learn about healthcare apps on your phone!
Disability Resource GuideDisability Resource Guide from University of Illinois – Learn about a variety of physical and mental disabilities, including depictions of the disability in popular literature and media, web/reference/academic resources, and common assistive technologies related to the disability.
New Online Learning Portal for MLA – The Medical Library Association recently launched MEDLIB-ED, an online education portal for health information professionals where users can “find, complete, track, and claim credit for educational activities.” A free competencies self-assessment is available where users can learn about the newly revised MLA Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success, rate their skills, and use the ratings to plan professional development.
Product Updates from National Library of Medicine (NLM) – The NLM provided updates about a number of their free online tools, including:
ClinicalTrials.gov: A beta version of the site is available for testing. New features include filters for refining search results, option to show/hide columns for search results, and the option to save studies of interest.
I decided it was time to experiment with Tableau again, and what better way to practice than using data from my local public library system, Montgomery County Public Libraries? Locating MCPL data was almost as fun as using Tableau, since I was able to learn about and experiment with another data sharing and visualization tool called Socrata.
Socrata is a cloud-based platform that government organizations can use to host and share public data sets. Montgomery County uses Socrata to power dataMontgomery, where I found a data set called Gov Stat MCPL Spreadsheet, listing Montgomery County Public Library performance measures. The Socrata platform offers tools for filtering, sorting, visualizing, and exporting data sets, so I was able to filter and visualize the data in charts (like actual and projected numbers of “attendance of library programs” by fiscal year, displayed in a line graph).
I was also able to export the full data set to a CSV file in Socrata, which I then saved to Excel and uploaded to Tableau to practice creating a dashboard. In my first Tableau viz I used the Story format (basically, a slide show of graphs and charts). For my second viz, I decided to try the Dashboard format, where I can organize multiple charts on a single screen. I created four charts but was only able to fit two of the charts comfortably on the dashboard screen (“Actual and Projected Attendance” and “Use of Library Services and Website”). Here’s the completed viz, Service Usage and Attendance at Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL).
I love experimenting with Tableau, but the best part of this exercise was learning about the data sharing and visualization capabilities of Socrata. A quick Google search for “Socrata government data” shows that many local and state governments use Socrata to share data sets with the public (for example, Baltimore and Hawaii). Federal government institutions also use Socrata to share data sets, like the open data catalog for the Institute of Museum and Library Services or NASA’s open data portal. It’s a promising sign that both local and federal governments are making it a priority to openly share data with researchers and the general public, so anyone can use the data in new and creative ways.
I’ve used LibGuides on a very regular basis since the beginning of my career and even back in college. When working in the patent field, I regularly searched for LibGuides as a quick way to locate a list of resources on a highly specific technology or to find guidance on searching for obscure document types. LibGuides basically offer free expert advice and curated resource lists from librarians around the world, so it would be silly not to utilize this deep well of knowledge whenever I have the chance. Springshare (the creator of the LibGuides platform) has taken the basic model of an online pathfinder and transformed what used to be a solitary webpage into an interactive online community of librarians, sharing knowledge with patrons and with each other through the LibGuides Community. The LibGuides Community allows users to search across over 500,000 published LibGuides and to also locate and communicate with librarians and institutions who publish LibGuides.
The long and short of it is, I really, really appreciate LibGuides.
So I was surprised a few days ago when I came across a discussion on a library association listserv about whether LibGuides and pathfinders are on their way out. My answer is – Pathfinders? Maybe. LibGuides? NO.
Solitary lists of links may vanish into the past, but there is a thriving community of librarians, teachers, professors, and researchers behind LibGuides who are constantly offering guidance to each other (in the form of – you guessed it – LibGuides) on how to adapt and improve their LibGuides to meet changing technology and user needs.
Between an active user community and an innovative company providing regular updates, I don’t see LibGuides going away anytime soon. Yes, they will constantly evolve with changing technology and information needs, but so will the entire library and information sciences field.