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Centering the Librarian in Patient Care: In Conversation with Kathleen Fox, Eugene Garfield Resident in Science Librarianship

Headshot of Kathleen Fox.

When picturing a patient care team trying to solve a medical mystery, most people envision a group of well-known medical professionals: doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and even pharmacists might come to mind – but librarians? Not so much. However, Kathleen Fox, Penn Libraries’ current Eugene Garfield Resident in Science Librarianship, explains that health sciences librarians actually play a critical role in patient care. “Every year, the body of medical literature increases exponentially, and so it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate,” Fox explains. “Health science librarians help healthcare professionals stay informed of new developments in their field and can provide important information about diseases, conditions, and therapies.” Indeed, health sciences librarians play a critical role in the Evidence-based Medicine movement, providing access to synthesized information, helping to formulate clinical questions, and serving on Systematic Review research teams.

Fox, who arrived at the Penn Libraries this fall, is intent on optimizing the value of health science librarianship. She is exploring methods and best practices to do just this through the Eugene Garfield Residency in Science Librarianship. Established by Library Overseer Eugene Garfield, the residency provides a new librarian with practical experience and preparation for a permanent position in science librarianship. The residency is also intended to serve as a diversity initiative, encouraging, but not requiring, applications from members of underrepresented communities.

“The Eugene Garfield Residency in Science Librarianship is an incredible educational experience for me at this stage of my career,” says Fox. “My colleagues are inspiring and tremendously supportive.  It is a privilege to have such a brilliant suite of mentors, to be exposed to emerging trends in health sciences librarianship, and to experience life in Philadelphia.”

Fox is taking full advantage of the opportunities that her residency affords, which allows for a broad overview of science librarianship while also allowing her to customize her own experience according to her evolving professional and scholarly interests. After just a few months here, Fox is fully integrated into the Information Services Team of the Biomedical Library, consulting with students, researchers, clinicians, and other STEM library users on how to navigate disciplinary literature. She helps design advanced searches and assists other team members with evidence-based and bibliometrics reports for various departments and partners.

One of Fox’s favorite parts of her residency thus far has been contributing to the Systematic Reviews team, where she helps design systematic search methodologies for literature-based research projects which aim to synthesize and critically evaluate studies relevant to highly specific clinical queries. She and the team have also been working with Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice (CEP) to perform Rapid Reviews, intensive literature search projects which are systematic in methodology but require a quicker turnaround time than full Systematic Reviews in order to make healthcare interventions. Most recently, Fox crafted a search for CEP alongside Graduate & Clinical Research Liaison Sherry Morgan on couplet care in the NICU, so that the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania can make decisions based on the best available research evidence. “I really like being able to supply healthcare providers with the information they need, and my professional experience at Penn and my prior experience at a municipal teaching hospital has provided me with the advanced searching skills to do that,” Fox explains. Due to their specialized research skills, Fox believes librarians are critical to staying abreast of best practices and optimizing patient care – and that the medical community is catching on. “Librarians are critical to evidence-based practice,” she emphasizes. “And the medical and nursing communities are recognizing that.”

The Penn Libraries have benefited greatly from Fox’s work. “Kathleen Fox brings a passion for health sciences libraries and has been a wonderful asset to our mission,” says Director of the Biomedical Library Barbara Cavanaugh. She believes that the Eugene Garfield Residency in Science Librarianship is a wonderful opportunity for the Penn Libraries to work with early career librarians with an interest in science and health sciences libraries, and that their fresh perspectives are of great benefit to the library system. “Our team of STEM libraries grows stronger through mentoring the Residents,” Cavanaugh adds. “The learning is bi-directional. We are grateful for this all-around enriching opportunity.”

The residents recognize that Eugene Garfield is a legendary figure in the field of library and information science, having founded the Institute for Scientific Information which created the first citation-based indexes to allow for locating more recent articles that cited earlier articles, as well as highly innovative table-of-contents services.  To have the Garfield name reflected in the residents’ title clearly establishes that this program is all about a love for innovation in the profession, a love of bibliometrics, and a love for science.  Kathleen Fox truly embodies this spirit.