Article Authored By: Hawkins, B. W., Morris, M., Nguyen. T., Siegel, J., & Vardell, E.
Reviewed by: Gender Diverse Group: Amy Johnson, Spencer Winstead, Monica Barber, Amy Hinckley
Link to article: http://jmla.pitt.edu/ojs/jmla/article/view/206/491
(Reviewers’ note: We chose to mirror the LGBTQ acronym used in the article instead of the more currently used and inclusive LGBTQ+. Language is ever evolving and if this article were to be published today, LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA+ is the language one would expect to see.)
This article is a write up of the panel discussion on improving health science libraries’ service to LGBTQ patrons, presented at the 2016 Medical Library Association and Canadian Health Library Association’s annual meeting. The purpose of the discussion was to create an on-going conversation and bring awareness and visibility to the importance of cultural competence skills and understanding of LGBTQ-specific health information needs for health science libraries through the use of creating professional standards, training, and evidence-based research. The panel discussed cultural competence as it relates to the overall effect on the diverse health needs of LGBTQ patrons, the overall lack of reliable health information reaching LGBTQ youth, and a real need to provide training for health librarians—specifically in learning culturally relevant terminology and creating welcoming spaces for LGBTQ patrons to find information. The panel made suggestions for the health librarian professionals to create a toolkit for reference, implement professional training, and utilize creative thinking to provide outreach to this underserved group.
An international perspective is achieved in respect to providing health information services to LGBTQ patrons due to both the international professional association audience to which it was presented and by the diversity of the panel members who gave the panel presentation, as well as the research the panel members included in their presentation and discussion. The research for the discussion and associated article represented health librarian service to LGBTQ patrons in countries including Canada, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The panelists themselves were from both Canada and the United States. The Medical Library Association partners with the World Medical Library Association, which has members in six continents. The intention of this panel was to create a universal conversation to all their health librarian colleagues and encourage a standardized progress in professional service to providing universal LGBTQ health information.
The broad theme of the conversation was the future of services to LGBTQ patrons of Health Science Libraries. The two primary questions that framed the conversation were: (1) How can Health Science Librarians best serve LGBTQ patrons and their specific and evolving needs, and (2) How can the profession encourage a research agenda to build an evidence base in this area. Each panelist gave a short presentation that shared their knowledge and experience, covering topics such as information needs of LGBTQ patrons, current issues in LGBTQ health information, as well as suggestions for how health science librarians can improve their services to these patrons.
In order to gain a broad range of answers to these questions, the six panelists were chosen with diversity of experiences and backgrounds in mind. The panelists represented many different aspects of librarianship, including academic research, public and academic libraries, as well as hospital libraries and community-based health service providers. All had specific interest and history serving the LGBTQ community, and many of the panelists shared their own research conducted around this topic. After the panel was concluded, the perspectives offered were summarized, discussed, reflected upon, and the recommendations that emerged from that conversation are presented in this paper.
In general, the authors found that libraries are not meeting the information needs of their LGBTQ patrons, and more specifically with health-based questions. Furthermore, fluency of librarians’ understanding of the effective interactions is also lacking. Nguyen states that the use of the “Diversity Wheel” and “Gingerbread Person” (2017, p. 317-319) are fairly effective tools at bringing up LGBTQ conversations about diversity and inclusiveness within an organization. These two tools also have their drawbacks, in that they still can be reductive, such as the “Gingerbread Person” using binary classifications of feminine and masculine.
Hawkins argues that LGBTQ experiences are not monolithic, and librarians need to demonstrate better competency of such when assisting these patrons. They promote two methods to improve services, first is to implement “safe space training” (p. 320) to teach librarians more sensitive vocabulary and to better promote allyship for those who do not identify as LGBTQ. Second is to build better relationships with community-based organizations.
Vardell found that librarians would benefit from more training in “using appropriate vocabulary” (p. 321). Siegel also found that most librarians are less familiar with terms “genderqueer, cisgender, gender binary, and gender variant” (p. 322). Siegel’s survey of librarians demonstrated that librarians (80%) understood and supported “additional training” to better assist their LGBTQ patrons (p. 322).
In conclusion, the authors state this field is nascent and will require more cultivation to meet the needs of patrons. One major aspect is to implement training into “critical reflective practice” for librarians and services (p. 324). But these tools are not relegated to health librarians as Hawkins states: “the strategies suggested here could be employed by librarians in all sectors” (p. 320).
To provide better health information services for LGBTQ patrons, American libraries can follow the recommendations found within this article. The study conducted by the authors demonstrates that librarians need to develop resources in creation of LGBTQ health outreach. The article presents support for the creation of a toolkit that would mark the development of librarians to “implement and evaluate other possible strategies in their institutions and make the results publicly accessible, through publication as journal articles.” (Hawkins, et al., 2017). Through the implementation, completed by means of interventions, libraries will build and attract LGBTQ patrons and encourage “critically reflective thinking” (p. 327) regarding librarianship in health sciences. The authors suggest that libraries can assist other libraries, as more attempt to create their own outreach programs, through sharing the experiences in publications. This shared experience will assist in the larger creation of a work regarding this topic that allows other libraries to create and maintain their own outreach projects with greater success.
Many LGBTQ patrons seek health information online because of limitations encountered in library settings such as outdated collections and materials, cultural stigma against LGBTQ people, lack of appropriate vocabulary and insensitivity from library staff that lack the appropriate training. To provide improved service, libraries should address these issues through the implementation of a “toolkit” for the creation of an outreach program that allows the focus to shift so that the result is an authentic experience, the development of a diverse and accurate collection and the well trained culturally sensitive and knowledgeable staff.