Embedded Health Sciences Librarian
Harrell Health Sciences Library
The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine – University Park Regional Campus
For Bradley Long, MSLS, AHIP(D), supporting MedEd at Penn State requires much more than resource management (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
Brad has a leading role in developing EBM education as an embedded librarian for the College of Medicine’s University Park Curriculum, which is a self-directed alternative learning option. He focuses on helping medical students succeed and enjoys providing individualized attention that he “has not experienced elsewhere”.
Learn more about Brad’s work, which includes implementing a formal information literacy program.
BMJ: There are not too many librarians with “Embedded” in their title. How does this term relate to your role and responsibilities?
Brad: I am actually embedded into the College of Medicine’s University Park Curriculum (UPC), serving the library services need of our campus, on behalf of the Harrell Health Sciences Library. It is my job to help meet the information needs of the curriculum, while providing satellite library services.
With the lack of a formal onsite library, I am also responsible for helping the students navigate the library services available on the main Penn State campus, with an emphasis on coordinating access to 24/7 study spaces and the document delivery of print items.
BMJ: What are your top priorities?
Brad: I serve as the solo librarian at the University Park Regional Campus of the Penn State College of Medicine. This campus is 100 miles (160 km) north of the main medical campus (in Hershey, PA), but just down the street less than a mile from the main Penn State campus. The regional campus is onsite at the local community hospital. I am part of the faculty of the Harrell Health Sciences Library in Hershey.
I have been at my job since August 2017, one month after the beginning of the full 4-year University Park Curriculum (UPC). This is a small group, self-directed learning curriculum that serves as an alternative learning option for the College of Medicine. In fact, our class size is just 12 students per academic year. I also serve a small family and community medicine residency program (18 total residents). As a result, I have gotten know our students, residents, staff, and teaching faculty very well.
Our top goal for the University Park Curriculum is to help our students succeed – and we all have integral roles in their education. With a small, close-knit campus, we are able to provide a level of individualized attention that I have not experienced elsewhere.
BMJ: Please describe your interaction with teaching faculty at Penn State. Do you assist them with curriculum design, supplementary materials and/or actual medical student instruction?
Brad: I work closer with campus faculty and staff than I do with any of the Penn State librarians. I am an integral part of the education team, even sharing an office suite with them. I have taken a leading role in developing evidence-based medicine education within our curriculum, along with actively participating in campus admission activities. I even at times serve as a small group learning facilitator.
Additionally, our curriculum does not have any required books. Our students develop their own learning objectives on a weekly basis, under the guidance of the faculty. Thus, such an intersection requires someone to develop vetted reading lists as a guide. I have enthusiastically taken on this role, producing twice weekly reading lists, with a focus on the four pillars of our curriculum:
Based on student satisfaction surveys and faculty feedback, these lists are very valuable learning tools.
I take pride in my academic program start-up experience. Prior to coming to Penn State, I was the founding Medical Librarian (2012-2017) for Central Michigan University’s College of Medicine. Furthermore, I was significantly involved in the start-up of a joint Master of Public Health program, as a then partnership between SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University. These experiences have truly shown me that today’s medical librarians are as much health sciences educators as they are traditional librarians.
BMJ: Penn State is classified as an R1 research institution. How does your library support the demand for resources needed to conduct research and the subsequent need to publish findings?
Brad: With Penn State consisting of 24 campuses across the state of Pennsylvania, often the efforts are focused locally, with guidance from University Libraries leadership. I can specifically talk about my own efforts. I assist our faculty and other clinicians with their research primarily on an individual level. I often perform literature searches for our faculty and assist them with identifying potential journals to publish in and assist them with interlibrary loan requests. I have not been much involved with grant level support though. With Penn State recently instituting an open publishing mandate, I also have advised the faculty on how to comply with the mandate. However, I am not on an island. Anytime I need research support from my librarian colleagues throughout Penn State, I can reach out to them. And I return the favor when asked.
For student research, I have a critical role, serving as the campus’ co-coordinator of student research, along with one of our faculty physicians. My specific responsibility is to help guide the students through the research process, along with highlighting the publications and presentations of our students.
I am also a member of the College of Medicine’s Medical Student Research Committee. I happen to be the only librarian and only UPC faculty member on the committee. The committee evaluates completed projects, awards research scholarships, and issues student research awards.
BMJ: We noticed that you co-authored a clinical research article regarding knee arthroplasty published in Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine during 2016. How did you get involved with that project?
Brad: This was a medical student-initiated systematic review and meta-analysis. The lead author, Nasir Hussain, asked if I would serve as their faculty advisor. I would also be one of two librarians on the project, and the only one from Central Michigan University.
This was my first deep dive into a librarian-supported systematic review. I have since served as a consultant for several other systematic reviews but haven’t yet had the opportunity to serve as co-author on another published systematic review.
BMJ: Your academic accomplishments include implementing a formal information literacy program at the Central Michigan University College of Medicine. You now also provide this type of instruction at Penn State. Are students generally receptive to this type of instruction, and have you been able to observe any of the benefits?
Brad: Information literacy in medical school definitely differs from that of undergraduate students. The goal is to provide students with the skills needed to locate and evaluate quality medical literature – in order to provide quality patient care – over a broad range of resources (e.g. to avoid the reliance on using just one point of view).
Moving students from searching Google Scholar (and even UpToDate) to PubMed and other library resources can at first be challenging. However, incorporating the principles of evidence-based medicine into my instruction increases the odds of their utilizing multiple quality resources. And being able to tie it directly into the curriculum seems to make students a lot more receptive, especially if the EBM assignments utilize relevant clinical scenarios. The most influential factor though is to utilize a physician faculty member as a co-instructor, whenever possible. This seems to reinforce the importance of information literacy to the medical students.
BMJ: Your broad experience includes collection development and management. What are the main factors you consider when deciding to add or remove a title to a collection?
Brad: The curriculum drives a majority of my collection development decisions. Plus, I listen to my students, faculty, and researchers about the information they desire to access and how they prefer to search for it. In fact, while at Central Michigan University, I even formed a formal student library advisor committee. For online collections, I also rely on usage and cost-per-use statistics for my licensing renewal decisions.
However, I cannot entirely rely on the suggestions of my faculty and patrons. This is where high-quality collection development tools, such Doody’s Core Titles, come into play. Doody’s Core Titles is an invaluable tool for helping me to better identify holes in my medical book collection, along with aiding in the development of highly relevant LibGuides. Furthermore, I had heavily relied on the Abridged Index Medicus (AIM) for developing online medical journal collections, benchmarked against my main library’s online collection. However, PubMed has stopped updating AIM as of 2020.
Finally, it helped to have colleagues at other start-up medical schools to bounce ideas off. Our shared experiences would lead to the publication of a series of newsletter articles in MLA News about our “Born Digital” experiences, culminating in the writing of:
Dexter N, Muellenbach J, Lorbeer E, Rand R, Wilcox ME, Long BA. Building new 21st century medical
school libraries from the ground up: Challenges, experiences, and lessons learned. Journal of the
Medical Library Association. 2019; 107(1):6–15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2019.493
(Disclaimer – I currently serve on the Doody Enterprises, Inc. Library Board of Advisors, annually serve as a Librarian Selector for Doody’s Core Titles, and was the Library and Information Science Editorial Review Group Chair for Doody’s Electronic Journal (2001-2003). However, I hold no financial interest in the company).
BMJ: Your career in health sciences began in the late 1980’s. Thinking about just how much has changed during that time, what would you go back and tell yourself? Please keep this work related; no lottery numbers 😊
Brad: In the late 1980s – early 1990s, I was an undergraduate student focused on a yet-to-be-identified career within the health sciences. I was able to complete some inpatient and outpatient-based shadowing in physical therapy, in addition to completing an internship in a small hospital staff education department. But I was still unsure about my trajectory. In the fall of 1993, I finally entered library school. In early 1994, one of the biggest changes in modern history occurred – the Internet went public. If I had known about the Internet’s capabilities back then and its impact on healthcare, I may have dual majored in health sciences and computer science (which may have been an odd fit for the time). I still feel that I would have eventually ended up with a career in medical librarianship.
BMJ: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
Brad: The COVID-19 pandemic definitely impacted my recent career, but not in a negative way. I was able to make a difference as an information professional by helping Penn State University Libraries develop resources to address questions about the virus and its impact, with the intent of helping both our researchers and our nervous campus community.
I also had the opportunity to take on a leadership role within the Librarian Reserve Corps, along with being afforded opportunities to work with two other U.S.-based librarians and epidemiologists employed by WHO Europe on a large sero-epidemiology project.
However, I feel that my biggest contribution is still in progress. I am serving as the Principle Investigator on a Penn State-wide survey that should help better identify the beliefs and behaviors of our multi-campus community toward the pandemic – including why individuals may be vaccine hesitant. A major component of the study is also looking at how information seeking behaviors impact beliefs about COVID-19.
BMJ: What sparked your interest in a library science career?
Brad: It was a fallback option for me. I seriously looked at physical therapy, nursing (twice), and even teaching high school biology before I learned about medical librarianship as a profession. My first real exposure to the profession occurred while I was interning in a small community hospital’s education department. We were often calling the librarian at a neighboring community’s hospital, thus piquing my interest in this newly discovered profession. And yet it still took me couple of years to enroll in an MSLS program, after a little bit of convincing from a couple friends of the family.
BMJ: What keeps you busy outside of work?
Brad: My wife Heidi and I enjoy traveling, day hikes, and visiting waterfalls. In fact, we recently returned from a few days of hiking on the shorter trails of Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. And last summer we spent our wedding anniversary at Niagara Falls, NY. I am also an avid baseball fan, having attended games in 12 major league cities, along with numerous minor league communities and college campuses.
Interviewed by Lauren Jones, Head of Marketing, BMJ Americas