Through internal programs and partnerships, libraries have the ability to affect health across the lifespan. The Eight Dimensions of Wellness framework can provide a way to envision and enact programs to support community health. Selected readings on each dimension illustrate current research related to each dimension.
Begin by watching this video from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, and then we will see how it applies to libraries.
Libraries support reading groups and create resources to help patrons who are doing through difficult emotional periods in their lives. They partner with social workers who can help patrons in crisis. Reader’s Advisory services and bibliotherapy might be offered in some public libraries.
- Ogden, L. P., & Williams, R. D. (2022). Supporting patrons in crisis through a social work-public library collaboration. Journal of Library Administration, 62(5), 656-672.
- Wahler, E. A., Rortvedt, C., & Saecker, T. (2022). Public library patrons’ views of their psychosocial needs and how the library can help. The Library Quarterly, 92(2), 172-187.
There are different notions of spirituality, but public libraries do feed the spirit through music and cultural programming, as well as materials that engage people through religious, spiritual, and psychological growth. The library itself might serve as a kind of spiritual place for many people, as well. Pyati (2019) writes about the value of libraries as a contemplative space, a space for reflection and solitude.
- Pyati, A. K. (2019). Public libraries as contemplative spaces: A framework for action and research. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 68(4), 356-370.
Perhaps intellectual stimulation is the most obvious and traditional dimension of health in which public libraries engage. From early literacy literacy to engaging older adults in memory care programs, they feed the intellect throughout the lifespan.
- Charbonneau, D. H., & Rathnam, P. (2020). Memory Cafés and Dementia-Friendly Libraries: Management Considerations for Developing Inclusive Library Programs. Journal of Library Administration, 60(3), 308-315.
- Joo, S., Cahill, M., Ingram, E., Hoffman, H., Olson, A., & Lu, K. (2021). The literacy-enhancing potential of singing versus spoken language in public library storytimes: A text analytics approach. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 14687984211046652.
Many libraries now incorporate yoga and other light exercise classes into their regular programming. They might partner with local health departments to offer diabetes, blood pressure, or breast cancer screenings. Some public libraries distribute food by partnering with their local food pantry; others serve snacks after school or have summer food programs.
- Lenstra, N., Oguz, F., D’arpa, C., & Wilson, L. S. (2022). Exercising at the Library: Small and rural public libraries in the lives of older adults. The Library Quarterly, 92(1), 5-23.
- Smith, H. R., & Hare, K. (2020). Thinking Outside of the (Lunch) Box: Building a Program Around Summer Feeding. South Carolina Libraries, 4(1), 16.
- Swanberg, S. M., Bulgarelli, N., Jayakumar, M., Look, E., Shubitowski, T. B., Wedemeyer, R., … & Lucia, V. C. (2022). A health education outreach partnership between an academic medical library and public library: lessons learned before and during a pandemic. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 110(2), 212.
The American Library Association added sustainability as a core value in 2019, reflecting growing concerns and action among librarians to address climate and garbage crises. Locally, what can libraries do? They can engage the population in conversations, serve as a catalyst for awareness and change, and host community gardens and food justice events. Libraries of Things can help people purchase fewer rarely-used items. Library buildings can serve as a model of sustainability as well.
- American Library Association, Sustainability and Libraries: a resource guide.
- Claudelin, A., Tuominen, K., & Vanhamäki, S. (2022). Sustainability Perspectives of the Sharing Economy: Process of Creating a Library of Things in Finland. Sustainability, 14(11), 6627.
- Lenstra, N., & D’Arpa, C. (2019). Food Justice in the Public Library. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 3(4), 45-67.
People need to understand their finances so that they can pay for housing, bills, and medical care. Public libraries offer programs that help people understand their finances, and also how to create businesses and process their taxes.
- Kiszl, P. and Winkler, B. (2022), Libraries and financial literacy, Reference Services Review 50 (3/4): 356-376. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-01-2022-0005
- Suchanic, E. B., Pond, M., & Perry, M. (2023). The role of public libraries in urban entrepreneurship. Journal of Urban Regeneration & Renewal, 16(3), 267-276.
The International Labor Association defines occupational health as “the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental, and social well-being of workers…the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological capabilities.” Public libraries prepare people to work and also serve as space for career exploration, enabling people to find a career that will match their needs and goals. Many libraries have technology centers that engage people of all ages in making and creative skill development.
- Hands, A. S. (2022). Supporting the educational interests of adult patrons through college-bound programming. Public Library Quarterly, 41(6), 556-573.
- Li, X., & Todd, R. J. (2019). Makerspace opportunities and desired outcomes: Voices from young people. The Library Quarterly, 89(4), 316-332.
Public libraries are sometimes referred to as a community living room. They are frequently the only free place where people can linger for hours at a time. Because of that, they also serve as warming and cooling centers or ‘de facto’ day centers for people without homes. They also offer space for community programs, music events, and more. They enhance the social lives of many people in the community.
- Hebert, H. S. (2020). Providing Vibrant Social Opportunities for Homeschooling Families. McFarland: Homeschooling and Libraries: New Solutions and Opportunities.
- Wynia Baluk, K., McQuire, S., Gillett, J., & Wyatt, D. (2021). Aging in a digital society: Exploring how Canadian and Australian public library systems program for older adults. Public Library Quarterly, 40(6), 521-539.
Interview with April Roy, Kansas City Public Library
Focusing on the Social Determinants of Health, partnerships, and many programs that the Kansas City Public Library has engaged in to support their community’s health:
Our advisory board was especially focused on creating materials focusing on the following issues:
- Aging Populations. Librarians should understand how the aging process might affect people so that they can address their needs with respect in the library. Some specific topics that librarians can address in programs or through partnerships are memory care, social activities, technology programs, and exercise, all of which can be tailored to meet the needs of older adults.
- Rural populations. The C4CH program aimed to engage both rural and underserved urban libraries, but of which suffer from greater health problems. Many rural areas have few doctors or health facilities, and populations have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Libraries can develop telehealth spaces, partnerships with doctors to offer periodic clinics, and educational events to encourage healthy behaviors in rural areas.
- Men’s Health, and specifically mental wellness: Men are less likely to seek treatment for mental health problems. Libraries are trusted, accessible, and privacy-oriented agencies, which gives them a way to reach men who want to explore health-related topics or problems. The librarians might develop reading lists and referral programs, or bring in social workers who can directly address mental health needs.
- Health Practices: Librarians should be sensitive to health practices and beliefs in their community, as well as health disparities among populations. For instance, are there specific diseases or chronic illnesses that are more prevalent among minority populations in the area? They should also be aware of how spirituality relates to health, develop respectful practices in librarianship, and develop services specifically focused on any Indigenous communities that reside in the area.
- Language Barriers: While the optimal solution to language barriers is hiring people who speak a variety of languages. When that is not possible, it is possible for libraries to reach out to interpreters in somse instances. For instance, hospitals have medical interpreters that librarians can utilize when working with patron health issues.