Today we welcome a whole team of community engagement library folk to the ELC! Enjoy! ~Laura
Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.
I am Karen Barton, Liaison to the School of Health Professions and Community Engagement Librarian at UT Health San Antonio’s Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library. I worked as a youth services librarian in public libraries for two and a half years before coming to UT Health. In my new role as a medical academic librarian, I have used my community outreach experience and skills to create and implement outreach projects for youth and adults that promote health literacy and health information literacy. These projects have included a health fair for local kinship care families and health information resources in the form of calendars and recipe booklets for kids and teens.
My name is Peg Seger and I am Head of Outreach and Community Engagement at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas (UT Health) where I have worked for 8 years. When I first came to UT Health, I was the Outreach and ILL Librarian. Over the years my role has expanded and I now lead both community and campus outreach and engagement efforts as well as manage a branch library at the UT Health Laredo Regional Campus.
My name is Kirsten Lorenzen. I’m an Outreach and Community Engagement Library at UT Health San Antonio. I’ve been in this position for about a year and half; previously I worked as a children’s librarian for the San Antonio Public Library. Before I became a librarian, I worked in marketing for about 3 years in Los Angeles. I love that in my current position I’m able to combine my role as a librarian with my previous experience in marketing to better promote the library’s services and engage our community.
Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.
We have two audiences: the campus community and the broader San Antonio community. In working with both, community engagement starts with understanding the community. We work to create a two-way street of communication by recognizing their wants and needs and approach each of our target audiences in a way that really speaks to them individually. We may find campus and community partners who work directly with and know the target audience and always work to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. They are beneficial to us in that we achieve the mission of the library and our institution as a whole.
How does that philosophy play out in your day-to-day work?
We survey the campus community quite a bit at Briscoe Library for things such as library renovations and acquisitions for our collection. We also host activities in the library that demonstrate our commitment to engagement. Two examples of activities include “building” a Before I Die wall in our library entry foyer and creating a Student Appreciation Week. Also, we often have tables at health fairs and other community events where we can have conversations with members of the broader San Antonio community.
In creating the UT Healthier Youth Recipe and Resource Booklet, we solicited feedback from teens on the content. Our library has expanded its reach to our youth audience by partnering with a local school district, a public library system, students in a Community Service Learning program, a campus youth group, a teen clinic, and others. As part of the San Antonio Health Literacy Initiative and Bexar Translational Advisory Board (TAB), we are able to learn from medical and other professionals about the needs of the community and build and maintain partnerships with various stakeholders.
Over the past couple of years our library has established a messaging campaign primarily for our campus audiences to promote our new 24/7 hours, renovations, and more. Through this campaign, we have expanded our reach through social media and also applied lessons learned to work we do with community groups. One area of outreach that Kirsten has really focused on since she’s been at Briscoe Library is expanding our social media presence. She’s used her philosophy of understanding the community to really target our audience with various social media posts. Every time she posts something on one of our accounts, she thinks about who she’s trying to reach, the message she’s trying to get across, and how our followers will interact with the post.
How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?
Actually, it has been the other way around in some respects. Our library has traditionally had a strong external focus through community outreach programming since the late 1980s. As a part of a designated Hispanic Serving Institution, the UT Health San Antonio Libraries have been providing health information outreach services to South Texas as a Resource Library of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) in the South Central Region. Due to this designation, we are open to the public and promote National Library of Medicine and other health-related resources. Our program has been considered to be historically significant. While there has always been an emphasis on serving our (internal) student populations as well, much of the greater unfolding of that focus has come through our annual messaging campaign over the past couple of years.
What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?
There are a few to be sure! We probably have many of the same ones that everyone else has. Funding has not always been readily available for community engagement activities. In addition to coming up with sufficient money and time to devote to the work, internal staff adaptation for engagement for the campus community can take a while. The outward turning efforts are not always seen as important or necessary to all staff. Due to this, we have made sure to openly communicate about what we are doing and why, to involve all library staff in some way, and to make it fun. Although the library itself is very supportive of our overall community engagement efforts, some of the challenges have come from getting external stakeholders to understand or recognize the importance of the library’s involvement with this type of action.
Kirsten Lorenzen, Karen Barton, and Peg Seger, of UT Health
What do you think makes librarians in particular suited to this work?
Librarians are service-oriented and we are constantly building awareness, providing those we service with information and tools that could benefit them in some way. We believe that should be the end goal of meaningful community engagement.
What are your long-term goals for the work that you do?
Our long-term goals include relationship building and making an impact on student success and community health. In regards to community health, the NNLM has provided grant funding for many of our community outreach projects and we would like to continue to take advantage of this funding to create and sustain projects that could have great and long-lasting impact.
Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.
Other institutional groups with which we work and who are important to our engagement efforts include: Area Health Education Centers, Bexar TABS (Translational Advisory Boards), CTSA Community Engagement, Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics Community Service Learning. The San Antonio Food Bank and the Witte Museum also have a variety of community outreach programs.
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