Meet RUSA’s new committee: Health and Medical Reference

by Sarah Elichko (with help from Karen Vargas)

RUSA’s Reference Services Section (RSS) recently welcomed a new committee to the group.  The Health and Medical Reference Committee was formed to address the needs of librarians who work with health and medical information.  You may wonder why another health sciences library group is needed – don’t the Medical Library Association and ACRL’s Health Sciences Interest Group have this covered?  Karen Vargas, Consumer Health Librarian at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (South Central Region) and chair of the RUSA Health and Medical Reference Committee, took some time to speak with me about her plans for the new committee and what sets it apart from existing groups.
The new RUSA committee serves public, academic, and special librarians, including both librarians who only handle medical questions occasionally and those working in health sciences libraries.  HMRC focuses on reference librarianship first and foremost.  This decision is reflected by the committee’s origin and first major project, the revival of RUSA guidelines for medical reference.

Recently, RUSA’s Guidelines for Medical, Legal, and Business Responses (2001) were allowed to sunset for a variety of reasons.  Reviving the medical reference guidelines is Vargas’s first goal for the Health and Medical Reference Committee.  This type of question can be tricky even for a librarian who is familiar with relevant resources like MedlinePlus or PubMed.  For example, legally, it’s important to provide reliable information without communicating anything that could be construed as medical advice (like a diagnosis or prognosis).  HMRC is bringing together experienced health sciences librarians to create updated guidelines to assist librarians with these kinds of issues.
The Health and Medical Reference Committee is also planning a program for ALA Annual 2013 (Chicago) on serving the health information needs of a diverse community.  The program will discuss providing medical information to patrons who are from different cultures, speak different languages, are disabled or have literacy issues.
Are you interested in getting involved?  Contact Karen at karen.vargas [at] with questions.

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