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Arpita Bose: Helping Medical Professionals and the Public Learn Through the Pandemic

As director of the Health Sciences Library at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, UCLA alumna Arpita Bose (’04, MLIS; ’93, B.S., Biochemistry) is responsible for a critical service during the COVID-19 crisis – supporting not only the hundreds of residents and fellows who are receiving their training at the teaching hospital, but also keeping the hospital’s attending physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other clinicians up to date throughout the ever-changing knowledge environment of the pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyone, from seasoned physicians to new trainees as well as members of the public, into a learner,” says Bose. “That provides medical librarians with the opportunity to share new research as well as to guide users in thinking critically about the information they find.”

Bose recalls that the coronavirus pandemic impacted operations at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in mid-March, with the surge of patients peaking in April. She says that the online nature of the library’s information resources made a transition to a combination of remote and in-person work more seamless than it could have been. On-site staff kept the library open during regular hours – seven days a week – and Bose’s relatively small team of one full-time librarian and one part-time librarian were willing to serve beyond the call of duty.

“We helped with meal deliveries to clinical staff, for example, from the generous donations of community organizations,” she recalls. “We offered the library space as an office area for clinicians to complete their documentation and call patients and family members (which is a big contrast to my usual policy of the library as a quiet space!). We encouraged staff enrolled in continuing education to use our computers to log onto their online classes and complete coursework.” 

Although Bose and her librarians do not interact with patients, family members, or the general public, their work directly affects these groups, as the information they provide to the hospital’s trainees and staff has an impact on day-to-day functions of NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, from safety protocols to planning by hospital administrators.

“My job requires me to be curious, proactive, assertive, and organized,” says Bose. “During the peak surge period, most clinicians were so busy caring for patients that they did not have time to contact us for reference assistance. I looked for ways to provide information to them in a more proactive manner, rather than waiting for direct inquiries.

“For instance, I updated the library’s intranet page with links to reputable COVID-19 information resources. Each morning I scanned the new COVID-19 journal articles in the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database (more than 200 new COVID-19 articles are added daily) and forwarded relevant articles to the staff. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work was hearing from employees who said they found these articles useful.” 

Bose says that in the hospital’s new normal of addressing COVID-19, the use of her library’s space has increased. She looks to expanding its scope of service to the hospital, and has made it a point to explore how she can best accomplish this in alignment with the facility’s greatest needs.

“More patrons use our library space to study,” Bose says. “Clinicians now have some time to reflect on their experiences, and they are requesting reference assistance with COVID-19 topics. We have reduced the usable capacity of the library space so that patrons can practice physical distancing, and we provide cleaning supplies for shared equipment like computers. The new trainees, who start each July, are now meeting me in a virtual space because library orientations are conducted via teleconference, rather in person. 

“My vision is to integrate library services and resources into every department of the hospital, and I am constantly looking for ways to support my organization’s patient care, quality, and operational goals,” says Bose. “For example, I have volunteered for programs, such as interdisciplinary weekly patient safety meetings, that have taught me about the hospital’s priorities and introduced me to employees who had never used the library but soon learned how my team could help them succeed. I have learned so much from the reference work that I do for various departments!”

A double Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Bose was initially unaware of medical librarianship as a career option. Looking to make a change from her career as a pharmaceutical chemist, she entered the UCLA MLIS program with the goal of becoming a public or academic librarian. However, the library assistant positions that she held as a student led her to a full-time position at USC Norris Medical Library upon graduation.

“It was my work experience during graduate school that really directed me toward my current field,” Bose says. “I decided to become a librarian because I wanted a job where I could serve others. During [graduate] school, I was fortunate to hold various part time library assistant jobs, at Powell Library, the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, Glendale Public Library, and Audio Digest Foundation. The biomedical reference work I did at Darling, and the medical indexing work I did at Audio Digest Foundation, showed me how medical librarians contribute to health knowledge.” 

Bose encourages MLIS students to explore the field of medical librarianship, and says that a wide range of academic disciplines can be applied to this fulfilling career trajectory.

“While I have a science background and pharmaceutical work experience, that is not required for this field, and in fact some of the best medical librarians that I know have a liberal arts education,” she notes. “The knowledge that you gain in graduate school about the way information is organized and retrieved will serve you well in my field. Medical librarianship overlaps with academic librarianship: you could work with health sciences students at a school of medicine or nursing. It relates to special libraries: hospitals and pharmaceutical companies employ librarians to serve their internal customers. It also complements public library work through the field of consumer health.

“It is immensely rewarding to support the essential workers who provide health care,” Bose says.  “I feel like I am part of my hospital’s patient care team because I locate the latest and best medical research to support our clinicians.” 

Courtesy of Arpita Bose