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Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library

Improving Access to Health Information

For hundreds of years, the academic library has played an important role as the symbolic and physical heart of a university. That’s reflected in the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL), which is centrally located between the other five schools and colleges that make up University of Utah Health.

But as digital access increases, the functional role of a library must change, as well. After celebrating 50 years as pioneers of information services in 2021, the EHSL staff and faculty worked tirelessly in 2022 to figure out even better ways to support the community in their quest for knowledge. “Whether you are accessing the libraries from your office, home, or mobile device, or if you are physically using our campus spaces, we want you to be able to have the information resources and services you need at your fingertips,” says Donna Baluchi, MLIS, assistant librarian.

That access is geared toward more than just faculty at the university or librarians themselves. Instead, a multi-year, multi-million-dollar grant expands resources to clinicians, public health professionals, community members, and health sciences students who will one day become future leaders. Because EHSL is one of seven Regional Medical Libraries (RML) in the United States—and the only one that serves as a training office for the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM)—more people in the Mountain West can access innovative health information.

To meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce, EHSL has also built a virtual simulation space for the health sciences in the adjacent Eccles Health Sciences Education Building (EHSEB). The fully equipped and staff-supported Extended Reality (XR) Classroom helps foster a community of cross-disciplinary collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. It lowers the barrier to entry for those interested in how virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and other immersive technologies can drive innovative teaching and research on the U of U campus. Designed after consulting with 13 existing XR spaces around the country, the new space furthers EHSL’s mission to transform itself from a collection of dusty bookshelves into a library for the future.

That future, and the impact of EHSL, extends far past the library’s physical walls. For example, much of the evidence-based information that is central to patient care decisions is locked behind publisher paywalls. Many providers in Utah, particularly those in rural areas, are unable to access this critical information because they lack a subscription to the journal or database where the information is housed. To eliminate this barrier, EHSL has launched an initiative that enables licensed physicians to retrieve full-text journal articles without encountering a publisher paywall. Christy Jarvis, MLIS, secured grant funding to create the service and conduct pilot studies at Ashley Regional Medical Center and Uintah Basin Medical Center. A second grant, awarded on May 1, 2023, will allow the library to expand the pilot program to Utah Navajo Health System’s Montezuma Creek Community  Health Center and Moab Regional Hospital.

Health Sciences Meeting

When you think about checking out things from a library, “seeds” for your garden are probably not what comes to mind. But through a collaboration with the College of  Nursing, Edible Campus Gardens, and the FeedU Pantry, students, staff, and faculty can access a Seed Library. Borrowers “check out” seeds and plant them in their gardens. After a successful season,  they harvest seeds to return to the library.

The Eccles Health Sciences Library is committed to supporting other campus causes. For example, library employees Alison Mortensen-Hayes and Baluchi joined forces with student advocates Millie Heiner, Olivia Kavapalu, Sara Wilson, Maha Alshammary, and Graycee San Cebollero, who received a SCIF grant from the Sustainability Office to bring low-cost menstrual cups to the U, ensuring equal access for everyone’s health needs. EHSL’s programming began by offering free menstrual products in its bathrooms in June 2019, paving the way for making them freely available in all campus restrooms by April 2022.

“We are here to assist you as you discover the many terrific ways to retrieve, analyze, and store what you need to be effective at your job or with your learning,” Baluchi says.

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