By Erinn Aspinall
I have long had a soft spot in my heart for public health. My first job after college was in a public health library – where I developed a deep appreciation for the profession, met my husband, and found my path to library school.
I feel fortunate that my colleague and our Public Health Librarian – Shanda Hunt, MPH – works directly across from me. Being work neighbors makes it easy for me to peek over her shoulder to learn about the fascinating projects she is completing in partnership with the School of Public Health. Her collaboration with Elizabeth Wattenberg, Ph.D. is no exception.
Students face complex conditions
Wattenberg’s work as a faculty member in the Division of Environmental Health takes her across the globe to Hanoi Medical University in Vietnam, where their one-year Master of Public Health program is training public health professionals from around the world who want to integrate public health practices into their work.
“The students and faculty come from and work in very complex conditions in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Wattenberg.
These students practice in areas with great need. They require knowledge about epidemics and disease prevention, as well as promoting health among populations displaced by climate change and socio-economic-political conditions.
Information needs found unmet
Wattenberg found that her ambitious, forward-thinking, and dedicated students encountered barriers when they could not gain access to up-to-date information.
“I became aware of the students’ need for access to current literature to support their research, and public health materials to support teaching and learning,” said Wattenberg.
She set her sights on developing a resource where public health students, faculty, and workers could easily find a variety of open access public health materials.
“Our hope was that this resource would help public health workers achieve their goals of preventing disease and suffering,” Wattenberg explains.
Librarian “Dream Team” advances goal
Wattenberg has previously worked with the Libraries to provide affordable content to her students at the U of M and to offer information literacy training for the International Master of Public Health Program.
When the opportunity arose to collaborate with the Libraries in support of her work in Vietnam, Wattenberg jumped at the chance to create a website that provided access to high quality, freely available public health resources.
Through the Libraries’ annual Research Sprints, Wattenberg was paired with Hunt as the subject matter expert and project manager – along with affordable content expert Kristi Jensen, instructional designer Andrew Palahniuk, and web designer Nancy Ching.
“I worked with a dream team of library staff,” said Wattenberg of this incredibly productive group.
“Over the course of four days, we located resources on eight public health topic areas, collected and created tutorials to advance professional skills, and built a website to organize it all,” explains Hunt. As they completed this work, they applied best practices for e-learning, instructional design, and accessibility.
This website – Free Access Public Health – is now available for use by Wattenberg’s students in Vietnam, and by all public health workers no matter where they call home.
Website promises meaningful outcomes
Wattenberg and the project team are currently working with the faculty at Hanoi Medical University to integrate resources from the Free Access Public Health website into their curriculum. Their planned evaluation will help revise the website to make it as useful as possible.
Wattenberg also has long-term goals. “We hope the website will be useful to people who want to learn about, teach, and practice public health around the world,” she says. “We hope it will inspire an increase in the availability and use of freely accessible public health resources and allow public health workers to share their success to help others achieve goals related to injury and disease prevention.”
So while my current work feels miles away from my first job in a public health library, I can’t help but feel connected to the mission of Dr. Wattenberg’s work and proud of how my library colleagues are moving this mission forward in meaningful – and impactful – ways.