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Public Library Responses to a Consumer Health Inquiry in a Public Health Crisis: The SARS Experience in Ontario

Roma Harris, C. Nadine Wathen and Donna Chan
Reference & User Services Quarterly
Vol. 45, No. 2 (Winter 2005), pp. 147-154
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20864480
Page Count: 8
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Public Library Responses to a Consumer Health Inquiry in a Public Health Crisis: The SARS Experience in Ontario
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Abstract

This article addresses the extent to which public libraries in Ontario were able to respond to inquiries for health information during a major public health crisis. The 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Toronto, Ontario, represented a challenge to those charged with providing accurate and timely information to the public. At the onset of the outbreak, the disease was not well understood and information about SARS was sketchy. As the outbreak progressed, information was in flux as more became known about the nature of the disease, methods of transmission, and treatment protocols. Against this background, sixty-nine randomly selected libraries in Ontario were queried by phone and by e-reference service (if it was offered by the library) for information about SARS, its symptoms, and prevention methods. The responses of the libraries were analyzed for the quality of the reference service and types of referrals, particularly Internet sources given the growing popularity of e-health initiatives. The results raise serious questions about the appropriate role of public libraries in the delivery of consumer health information and the preparedness of public library staff to respond to health-related inquiries, particularly in times of crisis.

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