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Penn Libraries News

How Health Sciences Librarians Are Building Global Partnerships, from Philadelphia to Gaborone

Two people with face masks sit at a meeting table and look to the viewer. An anatomical illustration adorns the wall.

Almost 15 years ago, as the University of Botswana prepared to open the first medical school in the country, Babakisi Fidzani found herself grappling with a new and exciting challenge. As Deputy Director of University of Botswana Library, she needed to ensure that university library staff would be ready to support the information needs of medical students. “It was a new project for everyone–not only for the faculty, but for the library. I became part of the team asking, what needs to be put in place in different units of the university?”

“When you talk about an academic setting, you’re talking about the library because information is core. It’s the backbone of any institution.”

Meanwhile, health sciences librarians at the University of Pennsylvania were investigating how they might get the Libraries involved with the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, an initiative from the Perelman School of Medicine that works to build health care and research capacity in Botswana. Thanks to a 2008 Innovative Libraries grant from the Elsevier Foundation, these hopes were realized. That year, a delegation from the Penn Libraries traveled to Gaborone to conduct an information needs assessment at the University of Botswana and the Princess Marina Hospital, the teaching hospital for the new medical school, to identify the kinds of medical information the library and the hospital needed to serve its medical students. The delegation included leadership from Penn’s health sciences libraries, information technology, and library administration.

Soon after, Dineo Ketshogileng, a librarian at the University of Botswana, came to Penn for a six-month internship, where she explored the ins and outs of medical librarianship. With those two global excursions, a partnership between these two university libraries was born that continues to this day.

“It’s been fascinating to see the level of partnership between the two universities,” says Hannah Rutledge, who became involved when she joined the Penn Libraries as the Director of the Biotech Commons in 2020. This sort of inclusive engagement is of increasing importance to the Libraries, and many colleagues are eager to learn from Rutledge and her team. “It's exciting to walk into a situation here at Penn and say, hey, we're already doing this!”

When Ketshogileng started her 2008 internship at the Penn Libraries, she had experience and training as a librarian and had worked with the University of Botswana's health and science faculty, but she did not have extensive knowledge of medical librarianship specifically. “I didn’t know about PubMed. I was that much of a clean slate,” she jokes, referencing one of the largest search engines for life sciences literature. Under the mentorship of Penn’s health sciences librarians, Ketshogileng also learned about developing health sciences collections, conducting systematic reviews of the literature, and managing research and instructional services for faculty and students.

Now, 13 years later, she is the senior medical librarian at the University of Botswana and a leader in the field. Fidzani observes, “When Dineo came back [from Penn], the tables turned, and I became Dineo’s student.” They have worked together ever since to develop and maintain the medical education services of the University of Botswana Library. Fidzani adds, “We are still tapping that knowledge that she gained and tapping the networks that have developed because of this partnership.”

The focus of the partnership has always been and continues to be building the capacity of University of Botswana librarians to serve medical students and clinicians. One early project sought to find a way of getting the most recent medical literature directly into the hands of health care providers. Physicians and students in Botswana wanted to be able to access library materials at hospital sites, some of which are hundreds of miles from the university, and many of which lacked internet. The solution was for the two universities to partner on a grant to purchase computer tablets and pre-load them with the necessary books and journal articles. As Ketshogileng explains, “When establishing a medical school in a low-income setting, having devices like that uploaded with medical information really does work for clinical decision making.” The effort has since expanded beyond the confines of the original grant and continues to revolutionize access to medical information at hospitals across the country.

In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians based at Penn and at the University of Botswana regularly traveled between the two universities as part of an NIH grant led by the Perelman School of Medicine’s Douglas J. Wiebe. Librarians at both institutions supported the research needs of these clinicians–along with fellow librarians, other faculty members, and even staff from the Botswana Ministry of Health–by organizing a series of workshops focused on information literacy skills.

Though the pandemic has made travel between the two countries difficult, it hasn't stop the need for these workshops. “I had faculty members knocking on my door every day [asking for them],” says Ketshogileng. In 2020, she worked with Penn’s librarians to decide which workshops Botswana librarians and faculty would find most valuable, and the results have been a great success. Recent workshops have included several on predatory publishing, led by Nursing Liaison Librarian Richard James, on using Endnote, led by Medical Education Liaison Librarian Frank Campbell, and on data visualizations, led by Manuel de la Cruz Gutierrez, director of data and innovation services. In the future, Botswana’s librarians plan to host similar workshops for Penn about the World Health Organization database Hinari, a tool vital to understanding health information needs in the developing world. 

Reflecting on the strengths of the partnership thus far, de la Cruz Gutierrez says, “It’s been learning about how libraries in other places work and are organized. It’s good to have other perspectives.” Ketshogileng concurs, pointing to the value of peer mentorship for librarians at both institutions. “If I am mentored by another head of a health library, and let's say I'm given an assignment, I can say, ‘Hannah, I'm doing this assignment, could you help?’” This is precisely the sort of active collaboration that the Penn Libraries sees as vital to expanding its global impact.

“It's an ongoing discussion with the Botswana librarians to figure out what they need, what folks at their institution need, and how we can work together,” says Rutledge. “It’s a win-win partnership."