Public Awareness : W. Hollywood Library’s AIDS Center Offers Information Access via Journals, Computer
Ron Shipton, who is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, wanted to help his friends who have the virus or are AIDS patients.
He knew they needed the kind of up-to-the-minute information about treatment that is available in regularly published abstracts of medical journals. But such articles are pricey.
“Why should my friends spend $150 a year,” said the 43-year-old community activist, “when the rich city of West Hollywood could buy it for the library and everybody could use it.”
And so he wrote his city councilman and talked to his local librarian.
The result, installed last week in the West Hollywood Community Library, is the nation’s first HIV information center in a public library.
Shipton had asked for a subscription to the AIDS Targeted Information Network, which publishes abstracts of important medical journal articles about the virus and the disease.
He got much more. The innovative center includes not only periodicals, pamphlets and books, but also a computer terminal open to the public.
Anyone interested in information can sit at the terminal and sign on to the Computerized AIDS Information Network (CAIN), a data system financed by the California Department of Health Services and operated by the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center.
“The library is stepping out and making a major breakthrough,” said CAIN director Russ Toth. “They are the first to offer public access. . . . Other libraries across the nation use CAIN, but you have to work through a librarian.”
The network, which has 811 subscribers, features the latest information from the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and from hospitals and federal, state and local health agencies, Toth said.
Volunteers from Being Alive and West Hollywood Cares, support groups for HIV and AIDS patients, helped select reading materials and also will provide staff to help patrons find testing, treatment or support facilities.
Because the Los Angeles County Library rushed to inaugurate the center last week in observance of National Library Week, some books and periodicals still are on order and librarians still are working to master the computer and CAIN.
Research librarian Elaine Bak said she already has had several phone calls inquiring about the center. Some clients have also dropped in to get pamphlets, but if anyone actually wanted help in using the computer in the first few days, she said she would have to “put them on hold.”
Shipton, who received a plaque from the city and library for prompting the development of the center, sees other “little wrinkles” to be ironed out.
He has suggested that library officials speed delivery of ordered periodicals and move the center away from its present location near the children’s books to make access easier and more comfortable for HIV-infected readers.
And officials are still uncertain about who will use the information center.
“I think we have a broad-based constituency, including families of people who have tested positive for HIV,” said Los Angeles County Librarian Linda F. Crismond. “This is one of the major health issues in society today, and a general knowing and caring public is interested in . . . AIDS.”
Dan Solliday, who is infected with HIV and is the educational services manager for Being Alive, helped select materials. “I think there is something there for everybody. . . . We have tried to get well-rounded resources for college students and clinicians,” he said.
CAIN director Toth predicted that the primary users of his computer database will be students “because AIDS is talked about in almost every health class, and where do students go when they write their reports? The public library.”
Neither Crismond nor regional librarian Evelyn McMorres foresees another HIV Information Center in the library’s 90 other branches, however. But they said all branches have access through a computerized catalogue system and the telephone.
The West Hollywood branch seemed a logical home, said McMorres, because of the large numbers of homosexuals and HIV-infected residents and because of the city’s financial support.
The city and county put up $20,000 to start the center. So far, McMorres said, $6,000 has been spent on the computer (which sports a sign noting “Gift of the City of West Hollywood”) and $12,000 on materials.
Because CAIN is state-funded, it is cheaper to use than commercial databases--$17.50 hourly during business hours and $7.50 hourly evenings and weekends. The library allows free use for the first hour.
Money to maintain the center and update materials must come from the county library’s budget, but Crismond has little doubt that she will find it.
“I have made a commitment,” she said, “to support this to the best of our ability.”