Librarians regularly find themselves on the front lines of major crises – fires and floods, for example – but few have experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. And few are experiencing its effects to the same degree as medical librarians like Dr. Gali Halevi, Associate Dean of Libraries & Information Sciences at the Mt. Sinai Health System.
Dr. Halevi, also an associate professor at Mt. Sinai’s department of medicine and medical education, manages library services across five locations in New York City. While her libraries are now providing services virtually, Dr. Halevi and her staff are busier than ever.
After (virtually) presenting at a monthly speakers’ series for ProQuest employees, Dr. Halevi spent a few minutes answering questions about her experience as a medical library director in one of the world’s COVID-19 epicenters. Here’s a summary of what she shared.
ProQuest: Who does your library serve?
Dr. Halevi: Our small team of 25 staff serves supports Mt. Sinai Health System’s eight hospitals and the Icahn School of Medicine. Our users include students in the medical and graduate schools, trainees that include residents and post-doctoral fellows, and the entire clinical community and administration – including the health system’s IT department. Each group has its own needs. It is an incredibly diverse community, and we have more than 35000 users and over 40,000 visitors per month in our main location alone.
What actions did you have to take at the start of the outbreak in New York?
[Our main library] is located at the Mt. Sinai Hospital main campus in Harlem on the Upper East Side, and that hospital has been treating COVID-19 patients from the very beginning. We had to vacate our facilities early on and move all our services online so the library could be used as a staging space for ventilators and patients’ beds.
We disconnected all the electricity and networking equipment and pushed furniture aside to make room for respirators, beds and other equipment. Our medical and nursing students assembled equipment and deployed them for use in the hospital. It was very emotional to see this and think, ‘what if all this equipment is needed?’
How did you address the challenge of rapidly moving all services online?
When we closed our doors, we had to make sure we were still there for our patrons. While our library’s resources are about 95 percent electronic, remote access is more important now than ever. We had to ensure all of our 74,000 journals, 300,000-plus ebooks and 200-plus databases we provide were working correctly, and I appreciated the ability to work with vendors and publishers to resolve any technical issues quickly. Enabling access is the most important thing for us as a library today. We don’t have time for broken links!
We also moved our educational offerings online, including seminars, workshops and classes. We now have 4-5 workshops a week, covering everything from how to access the library remotely to research metrics to literature reviews. We had over 300 patrons participate in these workshops in April alone. We also offer wellness activities for medical students and moved those online to keep our students well during these difficult times.
How do you ensure you stay connected to your patrons?
We quickly put together communications to the community to keep them informed, they can reach us via chat, email and phone. We also update our COVID-19 resources page daily.
How is your library system contributing to COVID-19 treatment and research efforts?
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of pressure from researchers to turn things around quickly. We’re now even more tuned into individual requests. If a researcher contacts us with a request and we don’t have the content, we need to quickly contact the publisher(s) and turn the request around so they can have access as quickly as possible. We also have an internal email going out every day with new information and articles to serve the medical community.
We now have over 106,000 hits on our databases each week, which is incredible – we have never had that kind of usage before.
How do you think this crisis will change the way your library serves the Mt. Sinai community in the future?
Even when we go back to the office, we’ll likely have to rethink our design and push more work online, especially since we’re located in a hospital. We also want to see more collaborations between libraries and publishers. Working with publishers to provide our researchers with quality content will make researchers’ lives easier, and that’s something we can all use right now!