GURU INTERVIEW: MICKI MC INTYRE
Micki McIntyre is the Healthy NJ Librarian The Healthy NJ web site is at http://www.healthynj.org/,
Marylaine: Tell us a little about your organization, and how and why it decided to create the site.
Micki: The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the state university of the health sciences. UMDNJ comprises eight schools: the state's three medical schools and schools of dentistry, nursing, public health, biomedical sciences and health related professions. It encompasses five regional campuses: Camden, Newark, Piscataway/New Brunswick, Scotch Plains and Stratford. UMDNJ owns and operates the University Hospital in Newark and University Behavioral HealthCare, the nations largest single provider of comprehensive mental health services. In addition, more than 200 educational and healthcare institutions and hospitals across New Jersey are affiliated with UMDNJ. We have a multi-dimensional mission statement which includes research, education, patient care and service.
HealthyNJ began as a collaborative effort of UMDNJ, New Jersey State Library, the New Jersey Library Association and Verizon. It is one of a handful of valid, authoritative health Web sites and the only one specific to New Jersey.
In order to keep the information completely bias-free, HealthyNJ is presented without any specific physician or pharmaceutical endorsements. The site is divided into five sections or portals: Health and Wellness, Diseases and Conditions, Health in New Jersey, Reference Desk and Just for Kids. Each section has specific information and links to other sites, which are checked regularly to be sure the address or content has not changed.
The HealthyNJ site was developed, and continues to be maintained, by health sciences librarians at UMDNJ. Launched in September 2000, the site has continued to grow. We began with 33 topics, selected from Healthy New Jersey 2000 and Healthy People 2000. As of April 1, 2004, there are over 244 Diseases and Conditions, and over 122 Health and Wellness topics. A Spanish language component has recently been added, and contains over 63 topics. The Web pages are continually monitored and new links are added as relevant, new quality sites are identified.
Over the past two years we have received funding through two subcontracts from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The funding is used to enhance the Spanish content on HealthyNJ and to train public librarians and health care providers who work in areas with high Latino populations in effective methods to search the Web for authoritative medical information.
Marylaine: What was your original vision for the site, and how did that change along the way?
Micki: HealthyNJ was always seen as a consumer health web site created mainly for the people of New Jersey. It offers free access with no pop-up ads, no registration, and no fuss. We see it as part of the service to the community that UMDNJ offers. It is our gift to the people of New Jersey.
Our vision for HealthyNJ was to aggregate links to quality resources on health and related topics. Even in 1999, there was plenty of unsubstantiated health information being presented as quality, researched information. Now we are more dedicated than ever, since the Internet has seen such huge explosions in questionable information, and sales information disguised as reputable, unbiased research.
When we were creating the site we realized that there was a great deal of high-quality information already out there, and did not feel the need to duplicate what was already available. What we did find missing, however, was a vehicle to collect health information specific to New Jersey. We designed a site that would include general health information (usually from the Merck Home Manual of Medical Information), links to reputable web sites, links to online support groups, PubMed searches of the medical literature, and especially the links to sites pertinent to that health issue in New Jersey. Those visions have remained paramount in importance to HealthyNJ.
The design of the site was based on a simple, easy to navigate skeleton, using very few bells-and-whistles. We wanted to be accessible to folks who only had slow dial-up connections at home as well as those accessing us through high-speed connections at libraries or workplaces.
Another new dimension was added a few years ago when we decided to expand our coverage to include as many quality Spanish language links as we could locate. We have just entered into a partnership with the La Sala Hispanoamericana at the Newark Public Library to help us translate our English annotations and locate more information for us in Spanish.
We also added a section called Just for Kids which encompasses health and wellness information, teen topics, cool things in New Jersey, and homework help.
Marylaine Who is your target audience, and how do you let them know the site exists?
Micki: Our targeted audience is the people of New Jersey, both English and Spanish speakers. We promote our site to the public libraries and school libraries through presentations at the New Jersey Library Association, the Educational Media Association of NJ and the state-wide library cooperatives. We also do occasional postings to NJ library listservs, and present programs to the various regional library organizations, some of the larger public libraries, and an assortment of health care organizations. HealthyNJ has also been presented to the general public (at health fairs and educational sessions) and to groups of health care professionals around the state. We recently created bilingual bookmarks and posters and will begin mailing them to all public libraries, college libraries and school libraries in the state. I also frequently mention HealthyNJ at the Internet Librarian conference and we have presented information about it at the Medical Library Association conference and various regional and national meetings.
Marylaine Judging from statistics and user feedback, what features of the site are being used most heavily? What kind of feedback have you gotten generally about the site, and what adjustments have you made to the site as a result?
Micki: Our Spanish-language links are getting a huge amount of activity! That is what prompted us to move the project along more quickly and approach the staff at La Sala Hispanoamericana at the Newark Public Library. We did receive some criticism of earlier Spanish translations that we were using, and the partnership with Newark Public Library will help resolve that issue as well. Most of the other comments consist of recommendations for topics to be included, or links to be included. We always follow up those ideas, and appreciate the comments.
In March 2004, we had over 89,000 hits on the site and we served over 39,000 distinct hosts. Our leader in the specific Health in New Jersey section is usually health insurance, followed by requests for health statistics.
The top ten requests for information from the site during March 2004 were:
- Bell's Palsy (1,053 hits)
- Gallbladder Diseases (1,006 hits)
- Oral Cancer (979 hits)
- Schizophrenia (940 hits)
- Smoking (840 hits)
- Vaginal Infections (764 hits)
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases-Espanol (699 hits)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (698 hits)
- Staph Infections (673 hits)
Child Abuse-Espanol (607 hits)
You can see what a wide range of topics hit the top each month. At first when such unlikely topics as staph infections were generating lots of hits we were surprised; then we realized that the information is not covered in many other sites. As long as our user statistics show that our audience wants information on those topics, we must be providing a needed service!
Marylaine: What glitches did you confront along the way?
Micki: The most frustrating glitch is keeping up with the tendency of sites to go out of business, change purpose, or change links. In one month, three of the major cancer information providers rearranged their sites and all our links had to be changed (in 25 cancer topics). Now the site is so large that even with automated link-checker software, it is difficult to keep up with the volume. The fact that the site is currently run by one full-time librarian (me!) with help from a few committee members can be a bit daunting at times.
On the other hand, we have been afforded quite a bit of autonomy and freedom, enabling us to respond to emerging health concerns and emergency situations. An example of this was our ability to provide information following the September 11, 2001 tragedies at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. By noon on September 13, HealthyNJ has posted information on terrorism, grief counseling and post-traumatic stress. The topics and information did not have to be approved by an outside body.
Marylaine: Has sponsorship of the site benefited your institution?
Micki: We get much good press from the public and school librarians, as well as from the general public. When we do a presentation to the public or participate in a health fair we often receive praise for the site, and then praise for the UMDNJ health care providers they found through the site. Considering that we are not an advertising vehicle for the University, we are pleased that we get so many happy users.
Marylaine: What have been the personal and professional rewards of having been involved in this process?
Micki: I have been able to hone many new skills with HealthyNJ; web site creation and maintenance, public relations, committee governance, etc. I'm thrilled to be involved with a site that has received so many kudos from people! I'm proud of the site and proud to be part of a University that takes it's commitment to the people so seriously.
Marylaine: Micki, thanks so much for your time. Like your presentation at Internet Librarian, it was really interesting. I hope it gives other librarians some good ideas for ways to serve their community.
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The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy. It's about realizing that all the really hard problems -- free expression, copyright, due process, social networking -- may have technical dimensions, but they aren't technical problems. The next twenty years are about using our technology to affirm, deny and rewrite our social contracts: all the grandiose visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and (God help us all) the Semantic Web, are dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky, non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can't solve them with technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable the human interaction that will solve them.
Cory Doctorow. Boing Boing, December 1, 2002, http://boingboing.net/2003_12_01_archive.html#
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