Public Health Informationist Barbara Folb Retired from HSLS

Barbara Folb

At the end of April, Barbara Folb, Public Health Informationist, retired after a long, successful career at HSLS.

Folb is the third of four generations with a connection to Pitt. Her great uncle, Max Lauffer, was the founding chair of the Department of Biophysics at Pitt. Her mother graduated from Pitt with a degree in Spanish, Folb received an MLS and an MPH, and her daughter earned an MLIS degree.

Folb’s first career was in music, but it’s a tough place to make a living, so in her 30s she decided to enroll in library school at Pitt. Her mother, who saved everything, presented her with a form she had filled out in second grade, where she had expressed a desire to be a librarian when she grew up, so it was like a course correction for her. Arts librarianship sounded great until she realized how few jobs there were, especially in Pittsburgh, and so she used her modest experience in the medical field—a day job working in a hospital as a unit secretary in a coronary care unit after college as well as setting up and managing her husband’s first medical practice, and relevant library school classes—as a starting point for a career in medical libraries. After getting her MLS, she worked a series of library jobs that allowed her to stay in Pittsburgh. In retrospect, all of them prepared her for public health librarianship, giving her knowledge of medicine, social sciences, insurance, health care policy, and the legal aspects of health care.

In 1999, she returned to Pitt as an HSLS Outreach Librarian at the former WPIC library. She developed and ran the program that provided fee-based library services to people from outside of Pitt, and provided mental health library services to Pitt faculty, staff, and students. When 9/11 happened, she was asked to identify materials in HSLS holdings that were relevant to disasters, terrorism, and bioterrorism. After that, her work shifted more heavily into public health training and information support services for Pitt Public Health and the public health practice community in Pennsylvania. In July 2004, she was appointed library liaison to the School of Public Health.

Folb felt the need for more knowledge of public health, because she wanted to apply that expertise to her service at the school. When the National Library of Medicine began an informationist fellowship program with a public health concentration, she submitted a successful proposal, allowing her two years to complete an MPH in Behavioral and Community Health Sciences with an added Certificate in Evaluation from Pitt, and to complete a qualitative research project on the information needs and practices of disaster first responders. This was a first for HSLS, having a librarian take a two-year leave of absence for professional development, and Folb was very grateful for the support of HSLS administration that allowed her to do that. Since returning from the fellowship in 2010, she has enjoyed applying what she learned to formal and informal instruction and collaborative projects at the School of Public Health. She has also enjoyed training librarians in systematic review skills through the popular HSLS Systematic Review Workshop.

Barb feels that her biggest accomplishments include increasing the value of the library liaison by applying the informationist model to her work with Pitt Public Health and being part of the team that developed and continuously updates the systematic review workshop attended by librarians from across the U.S. and Canada.

Retirement party for Barb Folb

Reflecting on her library career, she felt a profound gratitude for the many people and organizations who variously provided her with opportunities to continuously grow and learn, or allowed her the freedom to make her own opportunities. To mention a few from Pitt, Ellen Detlefsen, Professor Emeritus, School of Computing and Information; Nancy Tannery, formerly of HSLS and now Assistant Provost; Barbara Epstein, HSLS Director; Margaret Potter, formerly Director of the Pitt Center for Public Health Practice; and Dean Don Burke of the School of Public Health.

~Jill Foust