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Provision of Pandemic Information by Health Sciences Librarians: A Multi-Site Comparative Case Study
Introduction: This qualitative, multi-site case series investigated information provision to health care providers by librarians during the recent H1N1 pandemic. Analysis revealed contributions of information professionals and best practices for librarians supporting health care organizations during an outbreak. Research findings will help define current and future roles for information professionals in pandemic planning and response.
Methods: The research utilized a multi-site, comparative case study design. Researchers selected four cases for their representation of a provision-of-information project by an MLIS professional to health care or information professionals that emerged in response to the recent H1N1 pandemic. Investigators conducted semi-structured interviews and examined supplementary materials in the form of organizational documents, correspondence, communications and websites to create a complete picture of each case. Investigators queried each participant as to the circumstances of the information request, method of delivery utilized to communicate with their audience, sources used to retrieve information, evaluation and selection criteria applied to each source, and assessment of the service provision. The rigour of the case study was ensured through data and investigator triangulation, and interview transcripts were coded using NVivo to identify common themes and points of comparison.
Results: Triangulated analysis of the four cases revealed a distinct difference between "client-initiated" and "self-initiated" provision of pandemic information during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. Self-initiated projects utilized social software to "push" information; whereas client-initiated projects operated within patron-determined parameters for the use of technology to deliver information. Case analysis also revealed that health care administrators were a key audience for pandemic information services. News sources were essential resources and librarian evaluation skills proved crucial for selecting best quality evidence to support administrative decision making. Anecdotal evidence suggested that librarians provided a valuable service during the pandemic response period. However, particularly in the case of self-initiated projects, librarians found it difficult to conduct a formal assessment of their services.
Conclusions: Providing health care administrators with filtered information during a pandemic response period is a vital role, well-suited to health librarians. Successful provision of pandemic information services depends on prior-planning, high level communication and technological skills, and promotion of the library to institutional disaster planning teams.