Sola Whitehead, MLIS
VA Portland Health Care System
(Editor’s note: This article was previously published in the January 2019 issue of the Doody’s Core Titles Newsletter.)
The VA Portland Health Care System is a primary care facility in Portland, Oregon, with approximately 4,000 staff serving 95,000 veterans in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The Health Care System consists of a main tertiary care hospital in Portland, a campus in Vancouver, Washington, and 10 outpatient clinics around the region. The Medical Library has physical space in the main hospital, and is open weekdays to patients, family members, and facility staff.
As the Medical Librarian, I initiated a marketing effort to increase the visibility and awareness of the Medical Library. My aim was to increase usage of library resources, both physical and electronic, by hospital staff, patients, and family members. As with any project, there were challenges. The library has only two paid positions (a Librarian and a Library Technician), and the library technician position was vacant for five months in 2017. This made implementation of marketing difficult, as leaving the library to speak to patients and staff was less often an option. In addition, patients and family members occasionally complain that the library is difficult to find, but moving the library is not an option.
I collected baseline data for a three-month period beginning August 1st, 2017. I focused on measurable statistics, such as the number of visitors to the physical library space (separated into staff and non-staff visitors), circulation statistics, number of staff Athens accounts, and number of sessions accessing electronic journal content. I gathered the same statistics again for the three-month period of November 2017 to January 2018.
To market the library to patients and family members, I took several approaches. I worked with the Medical Media office to create an attractive trifold brochure about the library. This included taking photographs and developing text that covered basic information about the library and an explanation of library services for patients and family members. I discovered that there were local policies for review of patient-facing material, and this slightly delayed brochure distribution. If you plan to do something like this, I recommend identifying institutional policies early in the process. I also reached out to the Public Affairs office to set up regular social media posts about the library. Finally, the Library Technician and I worked to make easy-to-read handouts on a variety of health topics available, and we added text encouraging those in need of more information to visit the library.
To increase awareness of the library by hospital staff, I created a consistently branded section for the facility newsletter, and featured a different library resource each time. The “From the Library Files” articles were published twice monthly for six months. In addition, during presentations at new employee orientation, I explained how to access library resources, with an emphasis on electronic journals. Separately I reached out to service chiefs, resident coordinators, and other management to offer presentations about library resources.
In analyzing the statistics, I found that the number of visitors to the library declined in the initial three-month period but rebounded after marketing. While 952 people came into the library from August through October, that number increased 26% to 1,201 for the period of November through January. We continue to track visitors using basic hashmarks, doing our best not to count the same person multiple times (if they leave and come back later in the day). Circulation of print books decreased for the studied period, from 137 items to 126 items, but we noted that this period included the holidays, so did not feel this was cause for alarm. Staff-specific statistics reflected increased library awareness and usage, with the number of Athens accounts increasing 13%. The number of sessions accessing electronic journal content via BrowZine was particularly noteworthy, with sessions increasing from 308 to 590, an increase of 91%.
I was quite pleased with the results of our basic marketing efforts but recognize that it is never a “one and done” situation. Marketing and advertising the library needs to be sustainable and ongoing, which is difficult and tiring. I hope to make the Medical Library known as an essential resource that actively serves the veterans, family members, and staff by providing them the information they need. This requires that we make sure that all our patrons, whether patient or staff member, know the services and resources that are available through the library. As we begin 2019, we are again looking at how to provide the consistent, focused message that we are available to assist them with their information needs.