The Tampa VA Patients' Library

An interview with Dottie Kelly and Jeff Gluff

by Carrie A. Cullen


I recently met with librarians Dottie Kelly and Jeff Gluff at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital Patients' Library in Tampa, Florida. I learned about the many services they provide for clients on a daily basis and how they ensure that they are providing the highest quality health reference service.

Overview of Services

Tampa librarians Dottie Kelly and Jeff Gluff serve patients, families, staff and visitors through the Patient Library and the Patient Education Resource Center (PERC), and serve VA clinicians through the main hospital library. The Patient Library and the Main Hospital Library are located within the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and Clinics on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Tampa, and the PERC is situated within the Primary Care Annex located off I-75 and Fletcher Ave, also in Tampa. The list of services and materials they provide is extensive, and includes:

  • Consumer health reference
  • Clinical reference
  • eBooks and audiobooks through EBSCO or OverDrive
  • Career Transitions access
  • Computer and Internet access
  • Computer and research skills training
  • Get Well Network (GWN) interactive patient care system
  • My HealtheVet (read as "My Healthy Vet") registration and support
  • Current fiction titles (via a McNaughton lease)
  • Military and daily newspaper access
  • Informational DVDs, as well as popular movies and television series
  • Study support for GED and certificate programs
  • Domiciliary visits for homeless veterans

Building a Health Reference Collection

Jeff Gluff was recently faced with the task of building a health reference collection from the ground up, with the opening of the Patient Education Resource Center at the Primary Care Annex. He found the recommendations provided by VALNET, the VA Library Network, to be an invaluable resource for growing a collection. He also consulted EBSCOhost lists of eBooks and print books for consumer health, as well as Doody's Core Titles. Dottie Kelly brought my attention to The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, as well as the Omnigraphics Health Reference Series. Both are quality health resources targeted to consumers, but according to Kelly, the encyclopedias do not see much use these days, as many users are more inclined to search electronically.

The computers in the Main Library are on the VALNET system, but the eight computers in the Patients' Library are not on the system. However, patients still have access to a wealth of electronic sources through EBSCOhost and OverDrive that are appropriate for consumer use. Some of the databases available to clinicians, such as ClinicalKey and Micromedex, also have patient sections, allowing practitioners to easily print out information for patients while conducting their own research.

Defining High Quality Reference Service

First and foremost, the information must be authoritative and up-to-date. Ms. Kelly claims that her "theory of things is not so much that you have to know everything, but you should know how to find it.” To that end, she stresses the importance of making sure the most current information is in circulation and that the staff knows what resources are available.

Mr. Gluff agreed with this assessment, adding that it would not benefit them to have "outdated material that could conflict with what is being told to [patients] by their healthcare provider."

Ms. Kelly went on to explain that medical librarians also have legal considerations in providing health reference service. If a physician treats someone based on information provided by a librarian that is outdated or incorrect, the physician can be sued, and the librarian may be held responsible as well. Therefore, when providing information, it is critical to include the copyright information, making it clear that that the information is not coming from you, but is being derived from a specific resource.

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Both Ms. Kelly and Mr. Gluff confirmed that it can sometimes be challenging serving such a diverse population, and it is critical to be sensitive to the information needs of a client as well as their physical and emotional state. A patient's mood and needs can vary greatly even from one day to the next.

Asking the right questions is key for providing quality reference service, but listening to the client is most important.

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Links to Consumer Health Resources

Dorothy (Dottie) R. Kelly, MLIS

Patient Education Librarian

Main Library

James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital & Clinics

Dottie earned an undergraduate degree in Information Technology from Eckerd College and an MLIS from the University of South Florida.

Jeffrey Gluff, MLIS

PERC Librarian

Patient Education Resource Center

Primary Care Annex of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital

A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Jeff studied political science as an undergraduate and earned his MLIS degree from Kent State University.