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Alaska Medical Library spreads pandemic knowledge near and far

A view from outside the Alaska Medical Library located inside the UAA APU Consortium Library.
A view from outside the Alaska Medical Library located inside the UAA APU Consortium Library.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 8:35 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In the University of Alaska Anchorage/Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library, there’s a small section on the second floor where the Alaska Medical Library is located. Regardless of its size, the library is making a big impact in spreading knowledge about the coronavirus nationwide.

According to Sigrid Brudie, interim head of the medical library, it works like any library. It’s staffed with librarians who are able to fill requests for journals, articles, research and a slew of other information resources in the medical field.

“A lot of that is what we do, providing journal articles,” Brudie said. “Both for Alaska folks and we’re part of a service called DOCLINE. It’s the interlibrary loan network for the National Library of Medicine. So we fill requests for libraries all over the country and Canada.”

That means the people who work for the state started figuring out what to do about the pandemic in part by going to the library. Brudie said the initial questions were about things like detection on polymerase chain reaction tests and when exposed health care providers would be safe to return to work.

However, they didn’t, and still don’t, have all the answers, as new information about COVID-19 is learned every day. Brudie said they didn’t have any information about how long someone with COVID-19 should stay in the hospital, since the virus was so new.

Brudie explained the way they look for info is usually two ways. One request is literature searches, where they are given a topic and find as much information as they can. She said they usually didn’t get too many of those requests, but during the pandemic, they found themselves doing around eight times as many literature searches.

Then there are article searches, when the requester knows exactly what article they want from the database. Those are simpler, but according to the person filling most of those requests at the library, Sarah Dutton, there have been more of these requests.

“We used to only fill about 75 a month, and when it was really bad, we were up to almost 400 a month,” Dutton said.

Part of the reason they get so many of these requests is that many medical libraries in the country are cut off from their collections because of pandemic restrictions. Many librarians in the Lower 48 can’t get to their books and computers to find what to fill their own requests.

However, they can still get them because of the DOCLINE network. Some of the institutions asking for help make it easier to see how big a deal the small Alaska Medical Library has been during the pandemic.

“We have Yale, we have Harvard, Kansas does a lot from us. Their collection is very similar to ours, but once again they couldn’t physically get into their own materials so they were asking us for a lot more of those print materials,” Dutton said.

Brudie said as new information and research pours in, the amount of requests in general has remained busy but has leveled out. However, with growing reports of COVID-19 variants bringing in more questions, she’s expecting the requests to pick up again.

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