The latest political scandal? Of course. A picture of that delicious dish you enjoyed at a new restaurant? Maybe a little too often. The newly released study, “Oxytocin-Mediated GABA Inhibition During Delivery Attenuates Autism Pathogenesis in Rodent Offspring?” Not so much. The first two topics regularly make appearances on Twitter and Facebook, while the third item isn’t as likely of a candidate. Presented in a more accessible way, though, it might just catch people’s eyes and go viral, providing important health information to a broader audience.

This is what Kristina Elliott, a graduate student in the University of Maryland, College Park’s Master of Library Science program at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), explored during her virtual internship with the National Library of Medicine (NLM) this past Fall Semester. Through a combination of original research and delving into the research literature, Elliott discovered new best practices in health libraries’ social media use. From this, she created new guidelines for social media use at NLM, the largest biomedical library in the world.

Using social media to connect the public with health information presents exciting possibilities, but many challenges. These include improving health literacy, recognizing new online audiences, and maintaining an engaged following. NLM has an especially rich set of trusted resources to draw upon. Health information sources like NLM’s MedlinePlus provides understandable and reliable health content. It’s exciting to find new ways, such as on social media, to provide this content to a bigger audience.

Elliott’s work will be reaching broader audiences in several ways. Through the strong support of her internship supervisor, Melanie Modlin, and other NLM librarians, she was selected to present a poster on her NLM research at the 2014 Medical Library Association annual conference in May. Also, according to Modlin, the final report she created, “is a product that can be used across all divisions of the Library,” not just within the Office of Communications and Public Liaison where Elliott worked. “It was prepared with the kind of professionalism, thoughtfulness and thoroughness that one would expect from a seasoned, professional social media strategist,” Modlin stated.

The USG-NLM Virtual Internship program grew out of a memorandum of understanding between USG, NLM, the libraries at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and the iSchool at the UMCP. These semester-long internships span NLM’s research and development initiatives, social media outreach, and historical collections. They allow students to learn new skills, gain hands-on insights into working in the health information field, and develop leadership qualities. Because they are virtual, students can tap into the rich and diverse experiences of NLM at a time and pace convenient to their lives. The internships are open to all students at USG and students from the iSchool at the UMCP.

During the Spring Semester, two iSchool students and one student from the UMCP’s Public Health Sciences program at USG are undertaking NLM internships. Their projects focus on developing Twitter strategies for specific NLM programs, including HIVplus50 and Public Health Partners, as well as updating and expanding NLM’s Genetic Home Reference online resource. Library science is a field that continues to change, and few areas of librarianship are innovating as rapidly as the health sciences. The National Library of Medicine is at the forefront of these changes. Anyone who wants to challenge his or her notions of librarianship should take a look at NLM and consider participating in a virtual internship.

For more information on the USG-NLM Virtual Internship program click here