Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Collaboration Addresses Information and Education Needs of an Urban Public Health Workforce*(*)

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Collaboration Addresses Information and Education Needs of an Urban Public Health Workforce*(*)

Article excerpt


Addressing the health information needs of diverse, multiethnic, and multilingual communities can be both a challenge and an opportunity for libraries. The Vera P. Shiffman Medical Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, is the only academic medical library in the Detroit area open to the public. The library provides services to many communities in southeastern Michigan. The diverse geographic area served by the library includes the nation's highest concentration of Arab Americans [1]. A review of the literature reveals that limited research has addressed how libraries can meet the health information needs of this target community [2]. An understanding of the health information needs of Arab Americans in Michigan, and in the United States, will be increasingly important for libraries responsible for providing library services for and developing resources to meet the needs of Arab American health consumers and to improve the quality of information available to health professionals serving these communities.

Chief among the concerns of the library was to increase the relevance and usability of information for health professionals providing health-related services to local Arab, Muslim, and Chaldean American communities in Michigan. A key strategy of this initiative was to establish relationships with organizations that served this target population. The Urban Health Partners program, begun in 2003 and continuing through the present, was launched by establishing partnerships with a health department and a community-based organization serving these communities. The program described here is an important building block for achieving a greater understanding of how information is needed and used in different settings and by different groups of people.


The Arab American population in Michigan is estimated at 490,000 [3]. In addition, Arab Americans are the third largest and fastest growing minority group in the state of Michigan with a great majority of this population clustered in Wayne County in southeastern Michigan (the location of the academic medical library) [4]. Arabs have cited family unification, economic advancement, and escape from the conflicts in the Middle East among their reasons for arrival in this region [1]. The largest number of new Arab immigrants to Michigan came from Iraq, followed by Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt [1]. Identifying community partners who primarily interact with and provide services to targeted communities was the initial challenge for the library.


Outreach can be instrumental to facilitating a connection between a target audience and needed services [5]. Therefore, a critical first step was to gain a better understanding of the information and education needs of the local public health workforce serving primarily minority and ethnic communities in southeastern Michigan.

Library staff employed several techniques to identify possible partners who could assist with this process. Project staff attended and participated in a variety of statewide health fairs and conferences (Table 1). These activities provided staff with an increased knowledge of common diseases and health issues in the Arab American community and opportunities to network with key community leaders and stakeholders. In addition, using public telephone directories, scanning local Arab-English newspapers, and checking local Websites provided an overview of community resources.

The library established partnerships with the Wayne County Department of Public Health and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, a community-based organization primarily serving local Arab American communities. Collaboration with these groups was essential in building community trust, gaining a deeper understanding of information needs and health concerns, and identifying collaborative ways of addressing barriers to the use of information in different public health settings. …

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