Michele Mason-Coles ‘11G: Federal Librarian of the Year

Michele Mason-Coles

Master of Library Science

Michele Mason-Coles ‘11G was named Federal Librarian of the Year in 2019 by the Library of Congress Federal Library and Information Network (FEDLINK). The award commends her for “providing innovative patient-centered care and advancing readiness, quality, education and research” in her role as Clinical Librarian at Darnall Medical Library, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.  

Ms. Mason-Coles teaches evidence-based medicine skills to medical interns and residents, as well as nurses, clinicians, and therapists at the center. She also accompanies the pediatric team and neonatal intensive care unit team on bedside rounds weekly to search the medical literature for evidence in support of diagnoses and treatment approaches.  

“I serve those who serve and protect our country,” she said.  

Ms. Mason-Coles has also developed an electronic Patient Health Education Portal at Walter Reed that provides credible and accessible health information resources to patients and their family members. The portal allows patients to search for medical information on their own and helps to answer some of their questions about conditions and treatment in plain language. “It gives patients a credible place to start,” she said. “The portal offers targeted sources that are vetted and reliable.” 

As the lead for the Darnall Medical Library’s training program for the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Associate Fellowship Program, Ms. Mason-Coles also trains fellows in evidence-based medicine and invites them to shadow the clinical librarians.  

Her career began as a Patient Advocate and then Cancer Information Specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She became interested in medical librarianship after encountering patients who didn’t fully understand their diagnosis or treatment options.  

“I kept thinking about patients who may not be able to adequately participate in their health care decision making if they do not fully understand their conditions, or those who may not be able to formulate questions until after the physician has left the room”.” she said.  

Ms. Mason-Coles began the Master of Library Science program at St. John’s in 2009 as part of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian scholarship cohort. While at St. John’s, she completed an “eye-opening” internship at New York Presbyterian Hospital and realized that medical librarianship “was what I needed to be doing.”  

After graduating with her master’s degree, Ms. Mason-Coles was accepted into the NLM Associate Fellowship Program in Bethesda, MD.  After completion of the fellowship program, she served for two years as Reference Services Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She conducted extensive literature searches on chemicals and their effect on human health. Once she moved into her current position at Walter Reed, Ms. Mason-Coles applied those database search skills to medical databases.  

“Medical databases don’t really work like Google,” she said. “It takes time and practice to learn how to identify literature search concepts from a medical scenario, how to develop a well-built clinical question, and how to pull those concepts into a search strategy so that the results can reflect what you’re asking the literature to tell you. Searching the literature is definitely an art.”  

Because doctors don’t always have the time to develop and refine complex, in depth search strategies, the clinical librarian plays an important and time sensitive role in identifying the literature that supports evidence-based medical decision making in diagnoses and treatments. 

“It’s all part of patient care, and it’s my way of contributing to the care of patients, which has always been in my heart to do,” she said.  

Ms. Mason-Coles also holds a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Community Health Education from Hunter College. She advises students interested in medical librarianship to become involved in the Medical Library Association and to make the best use of internship opportunities and mentors.