New course on health literacy and public library

I taught a new seminar course this summer, discussing the role of public libraries in supporting the community’s health literacy through the provision of consumer health information. I have done some research in this area and have grown increasingly interested in what libraries can do in meeting the community’s health information needs. The Public Library Association has listed “Health” as one of their initiatives, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine is also actively working with public libraries in the development of consumer health information collections/services/programs. Event ALA’s Libraries Transform Campaign includes “health” as an area where public libraries can make a difference.

In this class, we looked at how public libraries can provide consumer health information from the following perspectives: the public’s health information seeking behavior, health reference services (e.g. key health information resources, evaluation criteria, health reference interview), consumer health collection development, programming, outreach and collaboration, outcome evaluation and needs assessment, and professional development of public librarians. I asked students to do field research and here are some highlights of their observations how consumer health information is provided in public libraries:

  1. Targeting special populations – e.g. a resource center for veterans where health and wellness is a focus
  2. Targeting a particular health issue – e.g. a desert library has a resource center dedicated to cooling, hydration and other heat-related health concerns
  3. Various fitness programs – e.g. yoga, zumba, Taichi
  4. Workshops covering a wide array of health topics – e.g. healthy lifestyle, mental health
  5. Health-themed book displays in the library;  online resources (databases, curated list of free websites) also have a designated “health and wellness” section
  6. Strong partnerships with community health stakeholders in the development of programs and services

It was really an interesting course to teach despite the huge amount of work. My next step is to identify public librarians who have gone through MLA’s Consumer Health Information Specialization training and interview them, and their perspective and experience will surely help enrich student learning next time I teach the class.


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