North Carolina AHEC Program
winter 2014 newsletter | home

15 Years of the AHEC Digital Library - A Celebration of Access and Partnerships

Founded in 1998 by four of the NC Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) libraries, the AHEC Digital Library, or ADL, has grown into a model statewide system.

The initial $75,000 investment, supplemented by a subsequent five-year grant from The Duke Endowment, has blossomed into a user-sustained enterprise with an annual expenditure of more than $1,200,000. The ADL is now utilized by the staff of 39 hospitals, 600 unaffiliated health professionals, 600 AHEC-affiliated medical residents and faculty, and 3,541 preceptors for UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University students.

ADL Members

The ADL is a unique digital system that supports health professionals by providing a single, customized, web-based interface into key health information resources and services. Supporting the delivery of quality, evidence-based health care across North Carolina, the ADL ensures that even in rural underserved areas of the state health providers have access to the current information resources necessary to provide quality care.

In 2012-2013, the cost of resources purchased was fully reimbursed through ADL hospital and individual members. The NC AHEC Program Office has continued to support the staff and infrastructure to operate and develop the ADL. “The return on investment for the AHEC support can be considered to be five to one,” explains AHEC Library Network Director Diana McDuffee, MLS. “For every dollar spent by AHEC on support, five dollars is collected to spend on resources.” If a hospital purchased the resources outside of the consortium, their cost would be an estimated 40-60% more than their cost through the consortium. The savings might be even more. A current ADL member hospital got estimates from vendors to compare their savings. They determined that they were saving 79% by remaining a member of the ADL consortium.

Many of the digital library’s current resources reflect the wide diversity of ADL members and include key resources such as JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, MEDLINE (the U.S. National Library of Medicine's premier bibliographic database that contains over 19 million references to journal articles in life sciences with a concentration on biomedicine), CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), Cochrane databases, and the American Journal of Nursing. Along with a strong core of primary care titles such as the Journal of Family Practice, 5 Minute Clinical Consult, and the Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice, specialty titles such as ACS Surgery Priniciples & Practice and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology are also included. There is also a strong collection of carefully reviewed websites to support health professionals’ need for patient education, cultural competency and practice management resources.

In 2013 the ADL had 82,282 registered members who logged into the system 700,000 times (see chart below).

ADL Logins

Statewide partnership is an important factor in developing and maintaining the AHEC Digital Library and is a key to its current success. The ADL is housed in the resource-rich and supportive academic environment of UNC-Chapel Hill. Maintenance of the ADL portal is managed by dedicated staff at the UNC Health Sciences Library while membership management takes place at the nine regional AHEC libraries across North Carolina. The nine AHEC library directors serve as the steering committee for selecting resources and offering cost-sharing options to participating hospitals. An advisory committee of key stakeholders meets periodically to give further feedback on resources and development.