Hot topic: Authoritative Health Information on Emerging Infectious Diseases

By now I’m sure you have heard about the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Perhaps patrons at your library have asked questions about the disease. Maybe they are worried about the potential for Ebola to enter the United States, or maybe they have friends or family members living in a country affected by Ebola. As librarians, we know how important it is to direct the public to current, accurate, and authoritative sources of information. This can be difficult when a situation changes rapidly, and news media reports vary widely. In this post I will answer five often-asked questions about Ebola and point you to several authoritative sources of Ebola information.

Ebola Questions and Answers:

  1. What is Ebola, exactly?

Ebola is a disease caused by infection with one of the four Ebola virus strains (Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, or Tai Forest virus).

  1. What are its symptoms?

Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and unexplained bruising or bleeding.

  1. How is the disease spread?

Ebola can only be spread through direct contact via broken skin or mucous membranes with the bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the disease.

  1. How many people have Ebola?

As of today there are 3,707 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, and 1,848 suspected case deaths. That means there are approximately 1,850 people living with Ebola.

  1. What is the likelihood that the disease will spread to the United States?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population.” (CDC, 2014) The CDC recommends that US travelers avoid all non essential trips to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In addition, the CDC and partners work at international airports and land borders to investigate cases of ill travelers entering the United States by plane or ship. Even if a person infected with Ebola were to enter the United States, it is highly unlikely they would spread the disease to their fellow passengers because a person with Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, August 28). Questions and answers on Ebola. Retrieved from

Authoritative Information on Ebola:

*Note: The sites I mention can also be used to find current, accurate health information on other infectious diseases or health topics!

  1. National Library of Medicine (NLM) Medline Plus Resource Guides



This guide includes information on Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers written for the layperson. It also includes links to other credible sources of health information.

  1. CDC Resource page

This page contains a wealth of information, including a link to the latest news on the outbreak (

and an infographic (

  1. World Health Organization Ebola virus disease page

This excellent resource has maps, videos, and an infographic that responds to the health concerns of travellers (

I hope these resources help to ease any potential fears you or your patrons may have about the spread of Ebola. Or, if you’re like me, I hope you enjoy reading about infectious diseases!

If you would love to see a blog entry on a particular Hot Topic in our field, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!


New Series: Hot Topics in Libraries

Introducing a new blog series on the NYLA NMES Communications Blog, we’ll feature a hot topics in libraries. These topics will be of interest to new members in particular.

This month’s highlight is on Linked Data.

What is Linked Data

Linked Data is one of the hottest buzzwords in the data world in recent years.

Based on W3C’s definition, Linked Data is about using Semantic Web technologies, including RDF, OWL, SKOS, SPARQL, etc. to expose datasets themselves as well as relationship between these datasets. As the founder of the concept Linked Data, Sir Tim Berners-Lee defines four fundamental principles of Linked Data which were commonly accepted later, namely:

1. Use URIs as names for things.

2. Use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names.

3. When someone looks up a URI, provide useful information, using the standards (RDF*, SPARQL).

4. Include links to other URIs, so that they can discover more things.

Why the library world (should) care about Linked Data

The importance of data to librarianship cannot be more emphasized. Libraries used to be the gate of all human knowledge. Even though we are no longer the only source of knowledge in our society, the fact that “Libraries are currently largely isolated in terms of data exchange, since data is primarily collected by libraries for libraries” as pointed by Jan Hannemann and Jürgen Kett, is still a serious problem for librarianship.

In a presentation given in 2011, Eric Miller pointed the needs for all the libraries to weave themselves into the web by adopting the current web technologies, so that they can work with different groups at the same time in terms of data exchange, which will help to establish a broader foundation of librarianship. Like Eric Miller, many people see Linked Data as a chance for libraries to use their unique and high-quality data to make a bigger contribution to a larger data community.

Moreover, Gillian Bryne and Lisa Goddard identifies three benefits Linked Data model can bring to the library in terms of management and service, namely, decision making processes can be better facilitated after adopting a single data “format”; interoperability and integration of different systems can be greatly improved; and, offering better searching methods.

The library community has been one of the most enthusiastic players in the Linked Data movement. Datasets published by libraries (including OCLC, Library of Congress, British Library and some other national libraries around the world) are a major components in the Open Linked Data project.  Library of Congress also started Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative in 2011, which aims to replace MARC format with a new model that is based on Semantic Web principles.

Why librarians should care about Linked Data

From a professional perspective, I want to propose two reasons why librarians should care about Linked Data movement (even when one is not a metadata librarian or a system librarian).

First of all, librarianship is about lifelong learning. We should not only help our members become lifelong learners; we should always learn new things ourselves. Linked Data is important for our profession. Moreover, the model is also a great way to form a better understanding of the world. There are great values for librarians to know about Linked Data model or Resource Description Framework (RDF).

Second, Linked Data is also a great way to build one’s brand, making one’s information more visible on the Internet. For example, librarians can create an FOAF (Friend-of-a-Friend) document and publish it online so that their information can be better exposed to searching engines, thus their information can be easily found and consumed by either computers or human users.

How to publish an FOAF document

FOAF project is not a Linked Data project in nature, but it can be seen as a lightweight and easy-to-start Linked Data application.

One can use this simple generator to produce an FOAF document about him/herself, and publish the file on one’s website or blog. One can follow this guidance to add a <link> tag in the original HTML code if possible, which will make it easier for the FOAF document to be discovered.  Even though it’s always easier to personalize the code in Drupal or self-hosted WordPress websites, it’s still very easy to add this tag in WordPress blog or Blogger.

This post was written by Kai Li. Kai Li is a second year library science student in Syracuse University. He was a cataloger in the past, and is now interested in metadata and innovations in the library community. You can contact him at or @nalsi to talk to me.

**If you’d like to suggest topics, or write one, please email** Thanks!!