In 2011 two hospital libraries closed in the metropolitan Denver area. Both were part of the MedConnect consortium headquartered at the Library I direct, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Library. Both had outstanding librarians but that did not save their libraries. In the case of one, the librarian was but one of several hundred employees laid-off at once. At the other, the library had been experiencing a protracted decline over the last several years, tied to cyclic budget reductions.
How do we help hospital librarians promote their value? My position is that everyone in the Association has a role to play, and that it’s critical for everyone to help. But if it’s YOUR library that’s at risk, here are some steps you can take:
- Know who is making the decisions: If you work at a hospital or in a healthcare delivery system, find out who controls the purse strings and find out what matters to them. Ask your boss, ask your co-workers, ask your union, ask your Library Committee Chair, ask whoever makes sense to ask, ask until you know!
- Figure out what matters most to them: Is patient safety the top priority? Preventing readmissions? Profits? Reducing expenses? In order to position yourself to present the strongest possible case for your library, you need to know what the decision-makers care most about and what messages they will hear above the din of extraneous information.
- Who are your allies? If your library is at risk for closure, who have you lined up in advance to go to bat for you and your customers? Let’s not be quixotic here; power speaks, and so is the Medical Chief of Staff on board? The Chair of your Library Committee? The CFO? Who with authority and financial clout is ready to speak up for your library service? What have you done to prepare her for that role?
- What is your message? No one has time to read more than a handful of bullets. We can regret that, but regret won’t save a job on the line. Is yours a message of successes achieved? Commitments of improvement based on what matters most to the decision-makers? If your leadership cares most about preventing readmissions, how will your library contribute to that goal? What is your sound bite about how the library will make a difference?
- What is your evidence? What sort of evidence matters to the decision-makers at-hand? Will a fact or figure do? Will a citation from the library literature suffice, or does it need to come from another journal – say JAMA or NEJM? What sort of study will be convincing to that decider? Frame your argument – and evidence – around what will be quickly and readily understood. Now is not the time for nuance.
- Look for tested tools and templates you can use. MLA has put together a lot of useful resources to help you make your argument. First, take a look at MLA’s advocacy resources including the Advocacy Toolbox, on MLANET athttp://mlanet.org/resources/#libpr. Do you need help with marketing your library? Stating the case for supporting your library? This Resources page has some good links for you to pursue. Note that some of these resources are for Members Only as a benefit of belonging to the Association. MLA also has a number of helpful policy statements that might include the data or argument you need; check out MLA’s Advocacy and Policy page, at http://mlanet.org/government/. One of the BEST MLA websites for hospital libraries in trouble is the Vital Pathways for Hospital Librarians; see http://mlanet.org/resources/vital/. Here you’ll find the Medical Librarians Raise the Hospital Bottom Line brochure, the terrific Myths and Truths About Library Services PowerPoint slides and bibliography of sources, and links to the NNLM’sHospital Library Toolkits (also at http://nnlm.gov/ner/lrm/promotion.html).
- What can you do next? Talk about the problem you’re having with others, and use your network of colleagues to brainstorm possible options and solutions. If none of the MLA resources cited above fits the bill, modify what’s on-hand. No two situations in a threatened library closure will be identical, and local conditions always trump. That’s why it’s important to understand what matters most in your local context.
Did the Denver area librarians try any of the above to save their libraries? Yes, absolutely they did, and yes, those libraries still closed. That does not mean that it’s pointless to try. If you really believe that as a librarian you contribute to improving the quality of healthcare where you work, then you must try. Will MLA meet all your advocacy needs? No, no association can or will. But MLA’s leadership is committed to trying.
Look for a future blog entry on what MLA is doing at the national level to advocate for all health sciences libraries.