For best service, ask — then ask again

Get a clear understanding of what they want

People who visit consumer health libraries do not always know what information they are looking for, says Arlen Gray, MA, family library coordinator at The Family Library at Egleston, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to talk with them to determine what information they are looking for, she says.

It is essential to ask the right questions until there’s a clear understanding of what the consumer is looking for, agrees Rebecca Mehling, MLS, librarian at the health resource center at The Ohio State University (OSU) Medical Center in Columbus. If someone has a new diagnosis, it would be appropriate to begin with a consumer health pamphlet or brochure. However, if the visitor had colorectal cancer and was diagnosed two years ago, he or she would understand the staging and treatments but might find clinical trial information or the latest treatment for stage three colorectal cancer of interest. "We would search the clinical trials databases and research some of the medical literature," advises Mehling.

To determine if material is appropriate, show it to the families and ask if it’s what they are looking for, advises Gray. It’s also appropriate to name specific web sites and ask if they found them in their search or discuss databases the library subscribes to. "With databases, we have information that parents aren’t able to get on their own," she says.

To meet the needs of consumers, it’s important to have well-trained, friendly staff, says Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, coordinator of patient education and nursing development at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Everyone who comes through the door of the resource center is greeted and asked if they need assistance. When consumers want to browse on their own, staff periodically make rounds to ask if the visitors are finding what they want. "If they want help, we try to target the information they are looking for by asking some probing questions," says Patyk.

Staff training is important to ensure that people receive the information they need and that the staff are sensitive to the clients’ needs. Therefore, volunteer training at The OSU Medical Center covers people skills as well as information skills. Volunteers learn telephone etiquette, as well as how to deal with difficult people and people who have emotional issues.

"We talk about the importance of being compassionate and the fact that sometimes just listening with a caring ear is as important as the information provided," says Mehling. Also covered in training is the reference interview and the need to determine the visitor’s "real question."

For more information about creating a user-friendly resource center, contact:

For more information about National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention Month, or to obtain a folder of educational ideas for community outreach programs, contact:

John Moulden, MS, President, National Commission Against Drunk Driving, 3D Prevention Month Coalition, 1900 L St. N.W., Suite 705, Washington, DC 20036. Telephone: (202) 452-6004. E-mail: Web site: