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TL v61n3 Consumer Health Information Library: a Collection Development Strategy
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 61 Number 3




 Consumer Health Information Library: A Collection Development Strategy 



Julie Lewis, Graduate Student
Sandy Oelschlegel, Director
Martha Earl, Assistant Director

Preston Medical Library
University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville 


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Conference Abstract:  Preston Medical Library has provided a Consumer and Patient Health Information Service since 1989. Plans for relocation and expansion of the library include the addition of a new “Health Information Library” specifically for consumers. This article describes the development of a collection policy for this new addition to Preston Medical Library and includes the policy and collection list.


Preston Medical Library is located at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, in Knoxville, TN and is funded by the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. UT Medical Center is an academic medical center comprised of University Health Systems (UHS) hospital, and the University Of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine (UTGSM).  While UHS is a not for profit 500 plus bed hospital , the UT GSM is an academic institution whose mission is to provide excellent education, patient care, research, and service. UT GSM accepts approximately 60 new residents each year to the residency programs and provide clinical rotations for 80-100 students yearly.

The Preston Medical Library serves both the UTGSM and its hospital partner supporting the missions of both, but the library’s service to the community and patients in East Tennessee is the genesis of this collection development project.

Beginning with a grant from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Preston Medical Library has provided a free telephone-based consumer health information service for area citizens and University of Tennessee Medical Center patients and their families since 1989.   In 2004, the library received the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) Blue Ribbon Consumer Health Information Recognition Award for Libraries. Nominations for the NCLIS Blue Ribbon Award came from the Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist Edwin Gleaves, and the final decision was made by NCLIS on the basis of the program’s potential impact, innovativeness, and replicability. The award is designed to highlight libraries that do the most to promote a healthy lifestyle. Despite the wide availability of the Internet, calls to the CAPHIS continue at a rate of 40 calls per month.  Preston markets its service in various ways. Brochures in physicians’ offices and flyers sent to public health departments promote the service to outpatients.  In the hospital, information is provided in new patient packets. The library web site includes a page describing the Consumer and Patient Health Information Service and also suggests other reliable consumer health sites.

In 2009, the hospital recognized the value of the CAPHIS service and invited the UT GSM to relocate the Preston Medical Library to a new location in a new section of the hospital. The new location was to also include a 1200 square foot section dedicated to the CAPHIS. This location would serve not only patients and their families, but would be open to the community --  essentially a public library within the medical library. Planning for this opportunity proceeded for the physical layout  -- staffing, services and resources.

The existing collection development policy did not address the consumer level books, and it was discovered that there were very few current resources available concerning consumer health collection development.
The following is a description of the methods used to develop both a collection development policy and collection list.



Resources used to locate books in the category of consumer health included both online book vendors for the public as well as those that specific to libraries. These sites helped determine which books ranked high in sales and held positive reviews by both the professional and the consumer.  In addition, other sources were used including searching other libraries’ catalogs and professional association sites include the Medical Library Association’s CAPHIS web page (1). Vendor sites used included the following: Majors, Rittenhouse,, and Barnes and Noble.

Selection Criteria

Budgetary constraints are always a consideration. In this case, the suggested budget totaled $5,000.00 to include all consumer health selections, including monographs, pamphlets, DVDs, CDs, and any health-related magazines.  Average price per book was estimated to be approximately $25.00 each; a goal of 200 books was established.

Selection criteria such as date of publication (generally within three years) and information accuracy were established. Selection criteria also focused on subject areas of most the prevalent health issues as reported in the Tennessee Health Department‘s Report of Tennessee’s Deaths 2009 [2]. These general categories included heart diseases; malignant neoplasm (cancer); chronic respiratory diseases, cerebrovascular diseases (stroke), accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus, influenza and pneumonia; and nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease), and intentional self harm (suicide). For collection development purposes, accidents and suicide were not given a category of their own, but rather were classified within other health categories; the category for accidents was included in trauma or other related injuries while suicide was best categorized under mental health issues.  These ten medical topics were not the only ones considered, but instead helped prioritize topics within the collection. 

Selection criteria also included consideration of the University of Tennessee Medical Center’s Centers of Excellence. These Centers highlight some of the hospital’s medical specialties and draw patients from the region and state; addressing the same medical topics within the consumer health library served as primary criteria in selection.  The following Centers of Excellence exist at the UT Medical Center and guided selection in this collection: The Brain and Spine Institute, Cancer Institute, Emergency and Trauma Service,  Heart Lung Vascular Institute, and The Women’s and Children’s Center.  Priority was given to diseases of focus within these Centers of Excellence.

Reliability of authors and publishers and lack of religious and commercial bias were established as aspects of the selection. For example, books that claimed miracle diets, wonder treatments, or quick cures as well as those endorsing commercial products were eliminated as choices. Fuller (2005) recommends looking for well-known consumer health series and those written by professional societies [3] (i.e. American Heart Association) when building consumer health collections; in accordance with those recommendations, those that were written by representatives of well-known medical facilities or physicians were more apt to be chosen.
The reading level of each book, although not generally specified by the publisher, did play a role in selection criteria. The ideal reading level was at or below the eighth grade; books written for academic purposes, and therefore representing higher reading levels, were generally not considered.  The author’s or editor’s use of lay terms, accessible syntax, clear organization, and in-depth explanations also played a role in selection criteria.  Pictures and diagrams were a beneficial addition and were favored during selection.

After books were selected based on above criteria, reviews were sought to help finalize selection.  These reviews included those by Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist as well as other professional review journals.  Consumer-based reviews from online bookstores, such as, also proved to be helpful in choosing books for this collection. These consumer reviews offered insight into a book’s usefulness in specific medical situations as well as consumer readability. Reviews were often frank and described important information needed in a selection process that many professional reviews did not, such as depth of information, author’s tone, and enjoyment levels. 


Once selected, the books were assigned general medical subject headings (MeSH) that described their content, and a book list established according to these subject headings. These subject heading were obtained using the MeSH database at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website [4]. This database also helped classify subheadings and choose the most appropriate descriptors that provided easy access to the collection while still in development. This will further help in cataloging the collection.


The resulting policy is provided in Appendix 1 in the hopes that others will find it useful as a tool to develop a policy for their library. While the selection criteria may vary for other institutions, the framework may be helpful. The framework includes the following categories: introduction of the Health Information Library, its purpose, and its collection goals; main selection criteria such as accuracy, publication date, price, reading level, patron and physician recommendation, representation of material, application to patrons’ health needs, and equipment required to view information; protocol for gifts and donations; and promotion of the collection.

The Preston Medical Library "Consumer Health Information Library" Collection List 2010 is included in Appendix 2. The list includes the title and the ISBN and contains 253 books organized by Medical Subject Heading. Subject Headings included are listed in Table 1 below:



Subject Headings Included in Book List

Autoimmune Diseases

Brain Disease

Cardiovascular Diseases



Complementary Therapies

Digestive System Diseases

Ear Diseases

Endocrine System Diseases


Glucose Metabolism Disorders


Joint Diseases



Nervous System Diseases

Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases

Oral Health


Psychiatry and Psychology

Respiratory Tract Diseases

Sense Organs

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Skin Diseases

Substance-Related Disorders

Surgery, Plastic

Urologic Diseases

Women's Health

Women's Health; Infertility

Women's Health; Neoplasms

Discussion and Conclusion

Americans are searching in a variety of places to find health information.  According to the Center for Studying Health System Change, in 2009 approximately 56 % of Americans reported searching for information about a health concern [5]. The top four places that people sought information included: a health care provider (86 %), friend or family member (68 %), internet (57 %), and a book or other printed reference (54 %). One source to obtain books and other printed materials is through libraries.  With careful selection, libraries in Tennessee can be a favored resource for books that provide health information.

In 2006 a survey of librarians in Tennessee to which 288 library staff persons responded, 37% selected “consumer health information services and delivery and resources” as their first training choice, and over 55% also selected training on “collection development for health science and/or consumer health” as their first training choice [6]. The collection development policy offered here may serve as a starting point in meeting this established training need and to assist Tennessee libraries, and others to become more familiar with the process of writing a useful policy. In addition, the book collection list may serve as a starting point for selecting books relevant to the most prevalent diseases in Tennessee.


1.         Medical Library Association. Consumer and patient health information section [Internet], Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association, 2008. [Accessed June 7, 2011] <>
2.         Tennessee Deaths 2009, Tennessee Department of Health, Nashville TN, December 2010 [Accessed June 7, 2011] <>
3.         Fuller, H., (2005). Consumer health collecting made easy. American Libraries, 36 (5), 47-48. [Accessed June 7, 2011].
4.         National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website [Internet] ( [Accessed June 7, 2011]
5.         Center for Studying Health System Change [Internet] ,  Washington, DC [Accessed June 7, 2011]
6.         Oelschlegel S, Ponnappa BP, Due K. Report : Tennessee Outreach State Planning & Evaluation Team Knoxville, TN; Preston Medical Library. Unpublished report.  2006. (Copies available from author)

Appendix 2. Collection List 2010

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