Episode 6: A Roundtable Discussion with NARIC's Information Specialist Team

Mark: Welcome to the sixth episode of NARIC’s Spotlight Podcast. This is Mark Odum, NARIC’s Director. In today’s episode, you will hear from information sleuths and brokers, more formally known as NARIC’s Information Specialist Team. We will talk about what it means to be an information specialist, including some of their prouder moments and some of the harder aspects of answering calls and speaking with patrons. We’ll also hear about helpful search strategies, common tricks of the trade, various resources and toolboxes, and more. Here’s the team and I hope you enjoy hearing about their experiences.

Mark: We have a team of four here today. Why don’t each of you introduce yourselves and briefly describe your role as NARIC’s information services team member. Jess, do you want to start off?

Jess: Sure! I’m Jess Chaiken, I’m the media and information services manager. I’ve been with NARIC for more than 25 years now and been a part of the information services team for more than 10 years. I’m sort of the supervisor role and do more of the information resource management and less of the individual, day-to-day interacting with patrons. I’m the back up to people who are much more skilled at it than me. I also set up our chat reference service, the AskMe reference service.

Mark: Tamie?

Tamie: I’m Tamie Pyle and I’m the Library and Information Services Coordinator. I’ve been with NARIC for more than 20 years. I can’t believe that but... And as part of the information services team, I of course answer patron requests and manage the Knowledgebase, which is our collection of disability and rehabilitation related resources. We use that to refer patrons to.

Mark: Thank you! Catherine, how about you?

Catherine: My name is Catherine Graves and I’ve been an information and media specialist since 2005 so about 17 years. I helped design and established our ready reference in a more official capacity that is used by patrons and us to field our request.

Mark: Alright thank you very much! Marta, how about you?

Marta: Hi, I’m Marta Garcia and I’m the bilingual information and media specialist for NARIC. I’ve been with the NARIC team for 11 ½ maybe 12 ½ years now. I field the English and Spanish requests from our patrons through chat, phone, email, etc. I also translated the ready reference into Spanish. I also add organizations to the KB that provide support in Spanish to our Spanish speaking patrons.

Mark: Excellent. Well, as you can tell we have a seasoned team here with over 50 years’ experience. Jess, would you share an exceptional information request that you might have handled over the years? You know, for example a tough one to find resources for or difficult request or a unique question that ultimately resulted in a detailed fact sheet.

Jess: Sure! So recently I was part of a stakeholder group for a research and training center and one of the other members was doing research on the link between accessible housing and community participation. And we discussed the topic a little bit more. I described our collection of rehabilitation research literature and, after working with her back and forth, put together a custom literature search on the topic on accessible housing and community participation. It was a search that resulted in some 50 or 60 abstracts. And they were very pleased with it and very excited and they asked for copies of more than a dozen of the pieces that were cited in there. We went back and forth a bit more and found the majority of the pieces available online. The rest we put together as a literature request.

Mark: Thank you! Tamie? What are some of your challenges?

Tamie: I have to say some of the best ones are when people are calling because either they’ve been newly diagnosed or a loved one has with a disability and they kind of don’t know where go or where to start or what to do. So, we can always put them in touch with the information we have specific to the disability that they have or been diagnosed with. But we can also put them in touch with the national organizations which also have a lot of information about the disability itself. But most of them also have local chapters which, of course, have support groups which have people that may have been in the same situation or close to it. So, they have somewhere to go to find someone who’s been there done that.

Mark: Thank you.

Tamie: And that kind of puts everybody’s mind at ease at least a little bit.

Mark: Yeah, you’re more than just an information specialist. Catherine, tell us about some of the work you’ve done.

Catherine: I was nodding my head a lot in agreement with what Tamie said. You know I’ve been doing this for a long time so there’s not one call that stands out to me. But I do agree that it is rewarding when we do get a call and the person just really doesn’t know where to begin or they’re kind of at the end of their rope. They’ve exhausted all the calls, they’ve made all the calls and we just happen to be the one call that they made where they feel heard, and we were able to provide them with some empathy and understanding and in addition to directing them to the organizations. You know we had one guide that we like to recommend all the time for finding a nursing care facility or a rehabilitation care facility (PDF) and we used to get a lot of calls for that. Their loved one had a stroke, I guess stroke was the biggest one, or they had an incident where they fell and needed rehabilitation services. And those were probably some of the more rewarding things to be able to pass on to people because they were easy to readily use.

Mark: Excellent.

Marta: I’ve also, like Catherine, have been nodding my head as everyone talked because those are some of the more rewarding calls when we’re able to help our patrons with the resources they need. But also, the researchers and being able to say here’s past research or current research or whatever kind of research which helps them push forward their own research. To me that’s exciting. As a former recreational therapist, seeing what is going on now as far as the research and being able to share it with other researchers or our patrons, I find that very exciting.

Mark: Thank you very much! We’ve heard a lot about our patrons. Now, how about we hear about some of the resources that you use? What are some of the more common resources that you look to that are out there?

Jess: I like to start with NARIC. I start in our Knowledgebase if I’m looking for agencies and organizations. I also will turn to our disability resources, that ready reference section that Catherine mentioned that she manages. That ready reference section is really an excellent collection of reliable, informative, and trustworthy resources. They’re federal agency, large nonprofit organizations that have been supporting people in the disability and rehabilitation community for years if not decades. So, I like to start in both of those. But really, what I like to do is start by asking the patron what they have reached out to first. That helps me to know where their information journey has taken them already. I can put aside things I might have suggested and start with something, maybe an area they haven’t considered before. If I’m not reaching for something at naric.com, I like to turn to the 211s. These are community-level information and referral. Most of them have a website you can search, but I really love to encourage patrons to reach out to the 211s directly because they provide such great services. You’re talking to a person who’s on the ground in the community and knows what’s available right in their area.

Mark: Thank you! Tamie?

Tamie: Couldn’t have said it better myself, Jess! I think we all jump to REHABDATA for information on specific topics, and of course the Knowledgebase and the Ready Reference are standard go-tos for us all. And I guess if I want to go outside of NARIC then I would go first towards national organizations that are disability specific to refer people to. And, like Jess said, 211 is really great because they are right there in the community, and they do know exactly what is available and eligibility requirements that we have no way of knowing nationwide.

Mark: Alright! Catherine? Do you have something to add? I know we’re getting pretty full!

Tamie: (Laughs!)

Catherine: I know! (laughs)! I was just going to say I really like how Jess summed up how the ready reference is, and I know we’re going to talk about this a bit more later, how do we tell when something is reputable. And I really felt like she had a good definition of how we compile our resources and making sure that they’re already looked at for the patron depending on their need. I wanted to say that.

Marta: I’m going to take this a step further. First, I agree with everything that everybody has said so far. But sometimes we will get calls from patrons in other countries, in Spanish speaking countries. So, I actually have a list, not only of organizations that I’ve added so far to the Knowledgebase, but government organizations in each country that support people with disabilities. So, I’ve had people calling from Venezuela who’ve migrated to Colombia say hey I need financial help! I’m a person with a disability, I’m in Colombia now, can you help me? And I can go through my list and say here’s the national, federal organizations in Colombia that can help you. So, it’s always interesting to get calls like that, so I have that list and I’m slowly adding those organizations to the knowledgebase so patrons can have access to them when they need them and not just depend on little old me to give them that information.

Mark: Excellent! Jess, how do we judge a quality resource?

Jess: That’s a great question! As you mentioned, we have a lot of experience ourselves, just years of answering patron questions, doing our research on the web. But we’re also trained Community Resource Specialists under the, I know Marta, Catherine, and Tamie are all certified Community Resource Specialists through the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, which NARIC has been a platinum member of for at least years if not more. Part of that training includes how to identify reputable information resources. AIRS has its guidelines for quality. We also have ones that we’ve developed internally. We kind of prioritize .gov’s and government published resources, followed by those well-established nonprofit and disability organizations that Tamie mentioned earlier, resources from research centers that have been conducting disability and rehabilitation research and development. So, we have guidelines that we follow, things that we look for like commercial involvement. Even nonprofit organizations get support from companies, so we take a careful view of any resource that we add to our collection whether it’s in the database collection or in our actual library collection. We look for depth of information. Is it a brochure? Even a brochure can have valuable information, but we want something that is substantial enough that someone will walk away with an answer to a question or at least information to take the next step.

Mark: Thank you, that’s very comprehensive. How about we switch gears a bit? Tamie, what are some of the more common search methods that you use, especially questions you might not have heard before?

Tamie: I don’t know that I have specific strategies. Like, the other question – we always start with our own databases and then try to move on to more, like the National Library of Medicine that we were talking about earlier, because they’re much more comprehensive so you can find more specific information for disabilities through them. Then, still, I go to the main national organizations as I start. I’ll even look at what resources they have on their website to see if there are any organizations that they speak of that we don’t have in our collection. I always start at NARIC first.

Mark: Catherine how about you? What are some of the common search methods you use when you get a request?

Catherine: Like everyone here, I go to NARIC first. If I can’t find it through NARIC, again, the next step like Tamie said is to go the national organizations. I do use Google and I go from there and look and see and if I can find something through that list that can give me a more immediate response that is more reputable then I will try to refer there. But I also do like looking at other organizations resource lists because sometimes there’s stuff, like Tamie said, that I’m like oh, I didn’t know about that! And, over the years, doing the ready reference it’s like, oh, wait a minute, that looks really good, where can I fit that in. So that, not only as we use the ready reference, but patrons, researchers may come to our website before coming to us. They can look through references there and, if they don’t see what they’re looking for, we can certainly provide them help and we do provide a lot of help.

Mark: Marta, what is your methodology to approaching a patron. A patron’s called in they have an information need. What’s the method you use to answer their question?

Marta: For me it depends on what language the patron is speaking. No matter what the language I always start at NARIC because we obviously have a great amount of resources in both English and Spanish to be able to answer questions. If it’s an English language request, after NARIC I will use the National Library of Medicine, I will use the Google-fu, it depends on the request. As far as Spanish, again I start at NARIC, and depending on what country they may be calling us from, I have different strategies that I use for each country as each one is different. They may not have the same resources as other countries. Again, it really depends on the language and where they’re from.

Mark: Thank you very much.

Catherine: I agree with Marta on that. You know, really just starting out by finding out what their needs are it will probably tell us where to go next.

Mark: Exactly, the intake interview. I know I’ve thrown you guys some curveballs, sorry about that! But we’re down to the final question which we’ve started discussing. With that, Jess, besides NARIC, where would you advise patrons to search for resources?

Jess: Well, we’ve mentioned some of the really excellent resources that are out there in the community. It really depends on what the person’s information goal is. If they are trying to find local resources, services, and supports, the 211s are incredible. Whether you call 211 or go to 211.org. The eldercare locator is similar, especially for people who are caregivers to older adults or older adults themselves. Benefits.gov is a great resource from the federal government for a person to find out what benefits they may quality for. If they are more on the research track, PubMed from the National Library of Medicine, one of the biggest medical libraries in the world, right up the road here in Bethesda, that’s searchable online. If they’re looking for something really specific in disability and rehabilitation, there are some excellent databases that are focused on physical therapy or systematic reviews. I believe we’ve collected a whole bunch of those on our website in the list of other databases. PEDro, OT Seeker, things like that.

Mark: Tamie, how about you?

Tamie: I can’t think of anything that Jessica hasn’t mentioned because those are all go-to places like you said. You’ve got the National Library of Medicine for specific information, eldercare locator is great for the older population, and then 211s are right there on top because, like you said, they’re right there in the community where the patrons are calling form and are well aware of all of the services that are out there for them.

Jess: What about people that are looking for facilities?

Tamie: Then I would go to CARF, for sure, which is the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. And that’s my go to for facilities for sure since we can look in a specific area close to where they live.

Mark: Anyone else? Marta? Catherine?

Catherine: When I was listening to Tamie’s response, I was thinking about how the state of Maryland has a way to look at nursing homes and acute care facilities, I want to say, and assisted living type of facilities. You can look at rankings and that was extremely helpful, I know, when looking for resources within my own family. But I would say the one thing that I was thinking about early was that I would recommend obviously coming to NARIC first but if you’re going out there on your own, you need to be a little bit skeptical about the resources you come across. Because sometimes, it seems like it’s all really great but then you find it’s not as great as you thought it was because they’re just trying to get people’s attention to come look at something else, like another blog that’s promoting something else. Or it’s not really a free service or a nonprofit, they have their own agenda. In these cases, it may be to get people there to get advertisement revenue.

Mark: That’s right. Not to be cynical but, yes, everybody gets paid by how many hits they get to their page and sees their advertising.

Catherine: And looking to see how up to date their website and information is, too.  If the last time it was updated was 10 or 20 years ago, you’re going to want to find something different.

Tamie: Yeah, that kind of goes back to is it reputable, is it credible, is it useful, who is the author of the content and what are their credentials? Is it factual or is it actually done on a bias? Whoever is writing it is biased with whatever is out there. You’re right, Catherine, there’s a lot out there. Kind of look a little deeper and see what’s underneath that information and who’s putting that content out there.

Mark: What about you Marta? We haven’t heard from you on this one.

Marta: I think everybody should come to NARIC but that’s just my biased opinion.

Mark: And, by the way, we have no advertising, and we don’t get paid for hits.

Marta: Right, for any of that. So, if people have already come to NARIC and they want to keep digging, again, using PubMed. 211 is great, I’m always referring people to 211. ERIC. You know there’s a lot of other databases that are reputable that people can use. We’re happy to point the way and look up the things they need. And many do offer Spanish language resources.

Jess: There’s one really important, community-level information resource that we haven’t talked about and that’s the Independent Living Centers. They are probably my first referral if I know the person is focused on disability and rehabilitation and community living. These are organizations run by and for people with disabilities, they offer a range of services and supports including information and referral services. Probably the best place I know of to find all the centers and their state councils is ACL’s website ACL.gov they link to a directory of independent living centers across the United States.

Mark: Thank you Jess. Well, thank each of you for coming on board. As you have heard today, NARIC is a wealth of information, many resources, but they wealthiest part may be our information specialists. I want to thank each of you for participating in today’s podcast and for the service that you’ve provided over the years to the thousands of people you’ve touched.

Mark: Thank you for sharing your time and listening to today’s episode. I would also like to give a big thank you to NARIC’s information specialists for contributing their experience with us today. All the websites and resources mentioned today may be found in the description of the episode and will be posted to the NARIC website. In addition, there will be transcripts in English and Spanish. Again, these may all be found on our website, www.naric.com. One more note for all the podcast fans out there: If you have an idea for a future episode, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at naricinfo@heitechservices.com. Thank you.