Friday, November 30, 2012

Dipesh Navsaria

My undergraduate majors were biology and English Literature, followed by a master’s in public health in health services. I then went to physician assistant school and practiced as a PA for a few years in outpatient pediatrics before going to medical school. It was in the midst of medical school I went to library school with the intention of learning more about children’s literature.

I am now an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, spending about half my time in primary-care pediatrics at a community health center and the other half of my time doing a blend of advocacy training, early literacy promotion, and medical education/advising. I am the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin as well. It keeps life interesting!


Why would a physician want an MLS? (Or, why would a librarian want an MD?)

I went to library school expressly to learn about children’s literature. I did - but I also learned a lot more. I learned that information-seeking behaviors and techniques (particularly around medicine) were not unique to medical education — reference interview is not all that different from medical interviewing. In a sense (if you ignore the performing of “procedures”), medicine could be considered a highly specialized form of librarianship.

Most people are surprised to learn that I was not a librarian before I went to medical school, but that I specifically intended to go to library school during my medical training.

Who is your greatest ally and why?

Public librarians. They give information away as a public good without question. The focus is always on “how can we serve our patrons best” without being unduly wrapped up in questions of profit and financing. Health care could learn a lot from public libraries.

How do literacy and librarianship fit in your current job?

A good part of my time is spent on programs which train health care providers to encourage families to share books together with their young children as a critical aspect of well-child care. It is critical to expose children to the foundational aspects of literacy early in order to build brain development so that they are “primed” for learning in preschool and beyond. As I am fond of saying, Books Build Better Brains!


What’s worth fighting for? Why?

Fight for what you know to be true. Keep repeating it. It’s taken a few years, but the notion of giving books to children as a key component of health care is finally gaining traction.

How do you help parents and other adults understand the value of sharing books with children?

In clinical practice, I give the book directly to the child and watch what they do with it. I can perform a lot of my developmental assessment just by observing. (I’ve said that I’d rather walk into a well-child visit with a young child without my stethoscope than without a book – I learn a lot more from the book!). 

I then comment on what I see to the parents and use that as a springboard to discuss home reading, bedtime, school and the like. I then print out a “prescription to read” on their after-visit summaries to highlight the point.

What can youth services librarians learn from medicine / medical practice?

What you do is critically important. I think too many librarians think that they “only do” something “nice” but not “important”. You are so much of the education and health care infrastructure that I rely on to help ensure my patients develop well. I trust and rely on your core values of public service, privacy, and being non-judgemental.

You’re a bulwark of what makes our society great, and you directly work with and influence the lives of children. Start acting like it, and start asking for what you need to fulfill that mission.


You can have any superpower; what would it be?

Almost-infinite persuasion. With careful advocacy, we collectively can accomplish virtually anything. (And I say “almost” because there should always be checks on anything.)

You can find Dipesh at

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