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Librarians on three continents create new Virtual Library

May 6, 2016

Scientists around the world, including many at VCU, are working to understand addiction to prevent, diagnose and treat it. Now, a VCU Libraries effort is building an information infrastructure for a forward-thinking global program.

Envisioned as a model for resource sharing in the digital age, this collaboration may be adapted to other international degree programs. Beyond that, this effort may become a model for building similar knowledge hubs that address intractable health and welfare problems. 

Librarians on three continents developed the virtual library and classroom materials for the International Programme in Addiction Studies. This master’s degree program is offered by three leading universities in addiction sciences: VCU, King’s College London, and the University of Adelaide, Australia. Its faculty and students—a cohort of some 50 per degree-cycle—will use the new materials.

Physicians, government workers, policy advocates, nurses, substance abuse clinicians, health care administrators, social workers and researchers from six continents are among the program’s students.

"The IPAS program was formed based on a recognition that knowledge about addiction was not evenly distributed around the globe," said Program Director Mary E. Loos. "The Virtual Library holds the potential for furthering our mission, which is to improve capacity for addressing problems related to substance use and abuse worldwide." 

Tutorials, webinars and interactive content will help students understand the geographic scope, types and quality of published and unpublished information and data available to answer addiction-specific questions, search databases from multiple disciplines and world regions, locate grey literature, evaluate critically all source types, and apply, and create and disseminate information ethically. "The virtual libary is a unique global resource in addiction studies," said Robert Balster, co-founder and co-director of the program.  

At the core of the program is the concept of “information literacy,” widely defined as a set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes essential for locating, retrieving, critically analyzing and using information for problem solving. Explains Librarian Nita Bryant: “Information literacy sets the foundation for independent research and is the basis for evidence-based practice in medicine, health care and policymaking.”

To develop the library, principal investigators VCU Librarians Bryant and John Cyrus, worked with a $15,000 Quest grant, along with colleagues from England and Australia. The project drew on their collective backgrounds in psycho-social sciences and bio-medicine.  

Not only does the IPAS International Virtual Libary project serve to connect the students of three campuses with important research in the growing field of addiction studies, the project also serves as a model for future collaboration efforts.
"Bringing together the expertise of VCU Libraries faculty with librarians from around the world demonstrates the power and importance of cross-departmental, and inter-professional teams," said Emily J. Hurst who heads the Research and Education Department at Tompkins-McCaw. "By working together, access to information is improved and richer experiences are provided to all involved. This program serves as an exemplar for other universities and libraries seeking to strengthen their programs through collaboration."

This promising collaboration will support a wider range of solutions and best practices for prevention and treatment of addiction, according to Sara Beth Williams who heads the Academic Outreach Department at James Branch Cabell Library. “This initiative forges a path for libraries to create and sustain global partnerships that would similarly address issues like peace, poverty, food production and distribution, sustainable energy, climate change, child welfare, civil rights, infectious diseases, disability, environmental pollution, political corruption, criminal justice … the list goes on.  

“In the future, I see more of these knowledge hubs that make connections to big problems. These connections are driven by science and evidence, in pursuit of better living for everyone on the planet."  

Addiction is a painful reality that affects millions of individuals, their families and communities worldwide. Addiction’s impacts are many and it crosses disciplines. Fifty percent of motor vehicle deaths involve substance use. Family violence and divorce are often tied to alcohol or drugs. Alcoholism—just one substance problem—damages U.S. economic productivity through an estimated 500 million lost workdays per year, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Criminal behavior—including rapes, assaults and robberies—are often related to addiction, as is poverty, homelessness, unemployment. 

This VCU Libraries project specifically connects knowledge and evidence-based practice directly to people in the field.

Librarians involved are: 

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