Closure of the Consumer Health Information Service

I did not write the post that follows, however it was a sad day for all of us and I want to ensure that this post survives.

The Consumer Health Information Service at the Toronto Public Library provided invaluable assistance to Ontarians across the province, in both official languages, helping them to find reliable health information that they could understand.

CHIS began in a very much pre-Internet era, a testament to good, old-fashioned librarianship and dedication to service. Susan Murray, the heart of consumer health information at TPL and in Canada in general, was the driving force behind a comprehensive and proactive information service that it was a privilege to be part of. Susan’s mission was and remains the provision of health information people can understand, exactly when and where they need it. To fulfill that mission, Susan literally moved mountains.

She and her staff created and maintained thousands of vertical files of articles on specific health topics and a collection of authoritative and understandable books on the myriad of health topics facing Canadians today. The reference desk helped people to understand their own and their loved ones’ health problems, so that they could work with their healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about their health.

CHIS was also part of the Canadian Health Network, a network of health information providers from across the country. CHIS was responsible for the selection of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) resources for the CHN, and for writing research articles (sample).

CHIS also specialized in providing information about asthma, COPD and other respiratory disorders. FInally, CHIS was a selector for the “health” area of the Virtual Reference Library, a curated collection of websites providing reliable information of all sorts to Ontarians.

Susan’s willingness to try new things in order to more effectively serve her geographically dispersed clientele gave me the opportunity to create a widely-used and much-appreciated wiki (now sadly no longer maintained by the library), and to use that tool in conjunction with classes I taught and talks I gave at conferences throughout the province. I created a second site to help her deliver a series of graduate-level courses which she taught in consumer health information. The online format was ideas for the distance-learning model of the course, and the ease of updating of the wiki was ideal for the very volatile health environment, where links change almost daily, it seems.

She also led me to pilot the first public-service librarian blogs at the Toronto Public Library. The success of this first blog (now the Health & Wellness blog) led the way for the creation of the many excellent blogs TPL staff currently write and maintain. Many of the consumer health information posts that appear earlier in this collection of Writing Samples represent the first steps taken along the social media path.

Susan also let me create and maintain a collection of Delicious Bookmarks for the library, which was useful for communicating with our clients and also with other consumer health information providers, such as the folks at CHIPG (a Canada-wide, Toronto-based interest group whose website I maintained for a few years). Back then, Delicious was brand new. It was a great leap forward for awareness and communication in library profession, which has always been good at finding and organising useful information.

Susan moved on to McGill university, where she now runs a collection of health libraries, and I became the department head for the Preservation and Digitisation Services department of TPL. The other women either retired or moved to other departments in the library. But together, we shared in something very, very special.

This, then, is the final post of the Consumer Health Information Service (or the first post of the health information service that succeeded it at the library). Please note that MPH refers to the Ministry of Public Health (Ontario).

Closure of the Consumer Health Information Service

With the loss of operating funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion (MHP), the Consumer CHISTPL_logoHealth Information Service (CHIS), at the Toronto Public Library closed on May 8, 2009.

The MHP decision was not a reflection on the value of the service. It came as a result of the government’s current budget pressures and the Ministry’s review of the OHPRS (the funding program for CHIS) and a realignment of that service to focus on a core mandate to build the capacity of health promoters.

The Toronto Public Library will continue to provide health information to local users.  Please visit the Business and Health Sciences centre at the Toronto Reference Library, call the library’s centralized phone service at 416-393-7131, or visit the Toronto Public Library’s health and wellness wiki at

CHIS began as an 18-month pilot project funded by the Premier’s Council on Health, Well-Being and Social Justice in November 1991.  The Service – located at the Toronto Reference Library – opened to the public in February 1992.  It included a walk-in service, local and toll-free phone line assistance, as well as the provision of tailored information packages to help consumer make informed decisions about their health.  In 1993, the Ministry of Health began funding CHIS.

Since CHIS opened in 1992, approximately 115,000 people have consulted CHIS for health information, and 350,000 users have accessed the CHIS website since it became available in November 1999.

The blog will continue as the Toronto Public Library Health and Wellness Blog:

Please stay tuned for future posts that should be starting sometime in July 2009.