White men stand holding a banner that says "fighting for our lives"

Making Exhibition Connections: Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine

Libraries, museums, and organizations throughout the United States and across the world host National Library of Medicine traveling exhibitions. These sites plan and present enriching and engaging programs to connect their communities with the information in the exhibitions and with the wide variety of publicly-available NLM resources. This is the sixth post in a series called “Making Exhibition Connections,” which invites host venues to share their partnerships, programs, and public engagement experiences with Circulating Now readers. Today, Francisco Fajardo, Information and Instruction Services Librarian and Jorge Perez, Digital Learning and Information Technology Librarian at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Medical Library at Florida International University talk about hosting Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture/Sobrevivir & Prosperar: Sida, Politica y Cultura.

Two African American men view an exhibition
Students from the Rainbow Rights Political Action Committee at FIU view Surviving & Thriving/Sobrevivir & Prosperar, 2019

Circulating Now: Please tell us about yourself and Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. For example, what is your job? Where are you located? Who visits your library?

Francisco Fajardo: My name is Frank Fajardo and I am the Information & Instruction Services Librarian at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Medical Library at Florida International University (FIU).  As of this May, I have been with FIU for a total of ten years.  One of my passions has always been outreach and how we can bring the library to the community as well as information to those who are marginalized.

FIU is located in Miami, Florida and we are one of the state’s largest public universities with a student body of close to 54,000 students.  Our library is visited by medical students, physicians, physician assistants, and members of the general public every day.   This exhibit was the perfect opportunity to bring all community members together to discuss a crucial period in our history.

Jorge Perez: My name is Jorge Perez, Digital Learning and Information Technology Librarian and I have been in this role for five years.  A portion of our curriculum has a focus on the determinants of health and how communities can be lifted by proper holistic care.  This exhibit fits nicely into the theme of serving communities and breaking down hatred of certain groups.

CN: Why did you want to host Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture / Sobrevivir & Prosperar: Sida, Politica y Cultura?

FF: There are two reasons why we wanted to host this exhibit: first, South Florida has the highest HIV incidence rate in the nation; second, younger generations are not aware or have little knowledge of the epidemic. Many of our students have limited background on how many men and women died as a result of AIDS in the early 1980s to the early 1990s.  Visitors to the exhibit were able to see a chronology of how the disease was discovered, how the government responded, and the rise of disease activism, i.e. ACT UP and other groups demanding policy change and resources.

An African American woman addresses a group
Dr. Cheryl Holder, Associate Professor and Program Director of Panther College of Medicine Communities, an extracurricular learning program for med students, discusses her experience as a community doctor in New York during the birth and early years of the epidemic and answers audience questions.

CN: Were you trying to connect with specific groups within your community?

JP: We wanted to connect the exhibit to everyone.  Every population has much to learn about the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States; especially those that are not on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) spectrum and still have a notion that AIDS does not affect them.  HIV/AIDS can be transmitted to anyone today.  One of the areas of the exhibit that was of interest to me surrounds the area of social justice—how the disease was pinned on gay men but also people from Haiti; and how the first efforts to educate gay men were focused on wealthy Whites instead of Latinos, African Americans, and other men of color. In addition, I had heard about the drug AZT from the musical Rent and the movie Dallas Buyer’s Club and like many, I was unaware that AZT had debilitating side effects for some and a controversial history. I hope our viewers gained the perspective that health issues affect their communities and sometimes we must advocate for better care and medical treatment.  We must be vigilant of fake medical news and methods of advocacy.

CN: How did you engage with National Library of Medicine health information resources while hosting Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture/Sobrevivir & Prosperar: Sida, Politica y Cultura? Which resources did you highlight?

FF: The National Library of Medicine’s traveling exhibits provided us with number of resources online. From there, we provided resources for our featured speakers and students, which included lesson plans for lectures and a wealth of images from the past.  We also took the time to highlight HIV.gov, MedlinePlus, and PubMed to find more information on the latest studies and statistics about HIV.

CN: Did you work with your Regional Medical Library (RML) to identify NLM resources for the exhibition or participate in a training program offered by them? If you did, how did they help? At what part of the planning process did you reach out to the RML?

JP: We did reach out to the Regional Medical Library for grant funding to cover the shipping costs for this exhibit and the Harry Potter themed one we will be hosting in December.  Without the funding from the National Library of Medicine Express grants, we would not have been able to host these exhibits.  We are very grateful for the opportunity.

CN: What else would you like to share about your experience hosting this exhibition?

FF: Another thing for me to share was how more exhibits should be bilingual (in both English and Spanish) to reach a wider audience.  Many visitors commented on this could extend to our international students and faculty.

JP: For me, the show has been extremely powerful.  I think there is still shame and prejudice towards the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups.  For instance, I identify as bisexual and have had female and male partners. I was banned from donating blood until recently because I have had sexual intercourse with a male after 1975.  Even though I was HIV negative and healthy, my name was added to a Florida database blacklisting me as someone who cannot donate blood. It is good to know that in 2016, the FDA finally ended its ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men. These and other past similar practices reflect the fear and misinformation associated with this disease. There is much to learn about respecting human rights and tailoring medical guidelines that respect communities.  This exhibit brings these prejudices and misconceptions to light very well.

Portrait of a Hispanic man

Francisco Fajardo is the Information & Instruction Services Librarian at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Medical Library at Florida International University.


Portrait of a Hispanic man

Jorge Perez is the Digital learning and Information Technology Librarian at the Herbert Werheim College of Medicine Medical Library at Florida International University.

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