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Consortium seeks to boost minority presence in health information professions

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2006 - Spring


A senior at Hill Regional Career Magnet High School in New Haven, Jordon Thomas was impressed when he first set foot in the Cushing/ Whitney Medical Library last summer. “I didn’t know there were so many resources that were right in front of me,” said Thomas, who attended a science program sponsored by the School of Medicine.

Thomas is just the type of student that Charles J. Greenberg, M.L.S., M.Ed., coordinator of medical library curriculum and research support, would like to attract to the health sciences information professions: a college-bound minority student who might consider becoming a medical librarian or health information specialist. (As it turns out, Thomas, who is African-American, plans to be a pharmacist.) Greenberg is the project coordinator for a newly formed consortium of eight university medical libraries that is trying to interest minority students in careers in medical librarianship. Nancy K. Roderer, M.L.S., former director (1992-1999) of Yale’s medical library and now director of the William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins, is the principal investigator. Funded with a three-year, $640,000 matching grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, the group comprises Yale, Georgetown University, Houston Academy of Medicine, Howard University, the University of Colorado at Denver, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee and Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, 9 percent of medical librarians are members of minority groups.

The effort to interest minority students is part of a broader attempt to recruit health care professionals who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of their patients. “Health care providers are very concerned with cultural competence,” said Greenberg. “We want to become part of that mosaic of health careers.” The medical librarianship project is just in the planning stage, but libraries in the group plan to sponsor tours, internships and other outreach programs.

The group’s task in part is to replace the image of a dowdy librarian with a more up-to-date view of a computer-savvy “information specialist.”

Yale’s medical library has been “at the forefront of the university’s partnerships with the New Haven public schools,” said Claudia R. Merson, director of public school partnerships at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs. For instance, Yale medical librarians taught Internet skills to Career High School teachers and administrators in the mid-1990s. “This is another opportunity,” said Merson. “There’s been so much exposure to health professions, but librarianship has not been one of them. It’s new and exciting, and it looks like it’s going to be cool.”