Professional Development Award Blog Post – Cait Ford, MLIS

Out West of My Professional Comfort Zone

A full day of work, delayed flight, 2.5 hours of turbulence, 1am arrival time, which was really 3am my time could not dampen my excitement to attend CHLA/ABSC 2017 in Edmonton. CHLA/ABSC is the annual general meeting and conference of the Canadian Health Libraries Association/ Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada, which affords Canadian, American and international medical librarians the chance to meet to share research tips, and to network. Without the UNYOC travel grant, I would not have been able to attend this year to learn, network, and collaborate with my fellow medical information professionals.

Two of the greatest opportunities this conference offers are 1) the opportunity to challenge myself and how I view our profession; and 2) to learn from others who hold different professional roles than myself. I am a Research Information Specialist at CADTH (the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health) where I spend about 90% of my time drafting and performing specialised, or systematic searches for a wide array of products, including health technology assessments, horizon and environmental scans, drug reviews and rapid reviews. At this conference I chose to attend sessions presented by other medical librarians that centred on outreach, engagement, and consumer health information. I have a great interest in this part of the field, and, although my employer encourages us to explore related interests outside of systematic searching, we are often too busy to explore outside our own walls. I feel this conference is a great opportunity to learn from colleagues about other topics and I know I learn best by getting out of my professional comfort zone, systematic searching, and by looking at my professional role through another lens.

From these presentations I learned about: connecting with patrons and colleagues through using therapeutic adult colouring book programs utilizing historical medical textbooks; the role of the medical librarian in facilitating shared decision making; the librarian’s role in knowledge translation and management; and the need for good quality, discover-able consumer health websites. Though these presentations and papers focused on health consumer and academic library patrons as the audience, I found a way to see my own customers/stakeholders (medical researchers, pharmacists and health economists) in the populations that are the target of these ground-breaking ideas I realised that all of these patrons had something very important in common: the need for information that is trustworthy, timely, and provided without judgement. Keeping that in mind, I began to realise that with some changes I could implement some of these ideas at my own organization, or on the Chapter level through activities for OVHLA.

The papers, audience questions, and post presentation conversations were very thought provoking and had me asking “how can I bring this home?”. My challenge to myself was to think outside my job, and how I can bring some of these great ideas into my professional roles at CADTH. An immediate idea I had while sitting in a room, speaking with other special librarians revolved around patron engagement. The use of a passive program like adult colouring stations worked well at the academic library, and I think it could be used at CADTH as an outreach program, highlighting any historic texts in the collection, while creating a new, or solidifying an already present, dialogue between the research information specialists and our patrons.

Each day I was at the conference, we had incredible presentations from invited speakers. The keynote speakers whom I was able to see were Dr. Shannon Scott and Dr. Louis Franescutti, both of whom are front line health care workers. These keynotes, in addition to the one from Dr. Timothy Caulfield, which I regrettably missed as I was still working, were extremely engaging. Although they were not specifically aimed at the role of the medical librarian in health care specific settings, they made me think of how our profession, and specifically my role as a health technology management/assessment librarian, directly impacts patient care. Whether it is keeping emergency room physicians up to date with the latest point of care technologies, advocating for credible, discoverable consumer health information online, or simply answering a front line workers quick reference question, our job matters. I will keep thinking about those patients in the emergency room seeing Dr. Franescutti, or the pediatric patients seen by Dr. Scott and wondering how I can make their health care experiences the most effective and efficient they can be. We medical librarians have a role in this, and it is up to us to bridge the gap between ground breaking knowledge and practice — we just need to work together to find out the best way to do it.

Between these presentations, I was able to connect with a small group of my Canadian colleagues: I attended CHLA/ABSC as a representative of OVHLA (Ottawa Valley Health Libraries Association). I am currently the CE Coordinator for the Chapter and was privileged to attend the Chapter Presidents’ Lunch with members of the CHLA/ABSC Board of Directors. This gathering allowed Chapter representatives the chance to participate in a strategic planning activities, and giving valuable feedback in hopes of getting the most out of our professional associations. The lunch gave Chapter representatives a chance to update fellow Members with the goings on of our Chapter and share any exciting news and events. On behalf of the OVHLA Executive (Alexandra Hickey, President; Sandra McKeown, Secretary; Aleksandra Grobelna, Treasurer, and myself) I was excited to share the news of: the third annual OVHLA Mini Symposium research sharing event in July; the OVHLA logo project; and, the most exciting of all, the planning for CHLA/ABSC 2019, which is to be held in Ottawa in 2019. Our Chapter is hard at work and will take many lessons on conference planning from the local planning committees of Edmonton and the St John’s (CHLA/ABSC 2018), in hopes of planning a wonderful, worthwhile conference. We sincerely hope that all our UNYOC colleagues will make the trip to Ottawa to attend.

The UNYOC Professional Development Travel Grant was extremely useful in me attending my first Board of Directors meeting for CHLA/ABSC. I now hold the position of Director, Public Relations, and with the funds UNYOC provided, I was able to attend the Board’s post-conference meeting, as well as the open annual general meeting. While at the Board meeting, we met with the local planning committee, spoke about strategic goals for the next year, new and exciting programs and events and how to make these accessible to librarians across Canada. I am very much looking forward to my position and responsibilities on the Board, and in particular advocating for our profession and helping to facilitate the transfer of expert knowledge within our Membership and throughout our profession across the world.

Thank you once again, UNYOC, for giving me the opportunity to fully engage in a very hectic 3 day trip to Edmonton, filled with many challenges and even more connections and knowledge sharing. Going outside of my professional comfort zone has done me a world of good, and I hope to share all that I’ve learned with my community.

For any further information, and to read my Tweets during the conference, please follow me on Twitter at @library_cait; and follow the conference hashtag #chlaabsc17 for insights from librarians from across the world.

View from Edmonton hotel room (Chateau Luscombe, downtown Edmonton – conference hotel with a great view of the city) “hotel”




Picture of plan departing from Edmonton airport.  – “YEG”

Chapter Activities, Member News

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