Following are some of the specific programs, along with related readings, that our advisory board discussed.
Russinoff (2017) writes, “Did you know that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood? Nearly thirty-seven percent (36.7%) of 2 to 8 year olds have decay in their baby teeth, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Among children in kindergarten, first, and second grade—6 to 8 year olds—the rates are even higher. More than half (55.7%) of kids in that age group suffer from dental disease.” Public libraries can help. Aside from distributing materials about dental health that are freely available from the NNLM, Philly (2006) describes a program offering “Dental Health Story Boxes” that contained a puppet and other materials that were distributed to public libraries to teach oral health to at-risk children in New York. Check out this NNLM grant that describes an outreach program that targeted dental health, as well: the Mansfield Richland County Public Library partnered with Richland Public Health to train library staff to share medically accurate and relevant information with patrons, provide oral health screenings and supplies, and create an educational web resource for the community.
Lenstra (2018) explains, “Health and wellness fairs are a relatively easy way to begin forming partnerships in your community around health and wellness. Rather than commit to working with a particular partner for a sustained period of time, you instead invite and then work with a broad array of health-related organizations to come to your library to share information, conduct screenings and lead classes.” Libraries can stretch their time and money through partnerships with healthcare providers, hospitals, and clinics, who can bring their expertise…and possibly promotional items. Lenstra recommends having plenty of staff available, possibly working with the Friends of the Library to provide extra people to run errands and help out as needed. If it was well advertised, there will likely be many new people visiting the library as well, so having enough staff on hand to work circulation is also important.
The Kansas City Public Library VISTA workers assembled hygiene kits for distribution to the city’s homeless population as part of the MLK Day of Service. Becca Randall, VISTA lead, explained, “The kits will have anything a person might need for their morning or evening routine…shampoo, nail clippers, anything a person might need.” (Bushnell, 2022). Such programs can fill a distinct need for children and adults who either cannot afford basic hygiene supplies, or who are unhoused. The library might work with their Friends group or with another partner, like a health clinic, to keep hygiene supplies available for people in need.
Food Insecurity Mitigation Programs (feeding programs).
When schools close, vulnerable children often go hungry, and public libraries can help. The MidContinent Public Library (Kansas City area, MO) partners with Harvesters, a community food network, to provide food to kids, 18 and under. Smith and Hare (2020) describe a partnership between the Charleston (SC) public library and the Charleston School district that was designed to close the summer hunger gap while also bringing people to the library who were not regular library users, through a program called “Lunch, Listen, and Learn.” This program allowed them to highlight the summer reading program and introduce people to other programs in the library. Arata (2023) describes ‘accessible pantries’ that are popping up everywhere – like Little Free Libraries, they stock food, school supplies, toiletries, and more. While this article describes a “Teen Pantry” located in the teen space, libraries can easily stock a pantry with needed items, which might be kept stocked by volunteers or a grant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” There are many ways that libraries might be involved in helping people obtain and understand health information to make appropriate decisions, but like other institutions, people need to trust the library and librarians. The CDC has found that there are three components to building trust: using plain language; using your audience’s preferred language and communication channels; and using culturally and linguistically appropriate language. Follow the links to learn more!
The Medical Library Association offers Consumer Health Information Specialist Certification, which is appropriate for librarians in all sectors who want to feel confident in their ability to deliver quality healthcare information to the public. Most courses are free, and MLA charges a modest ($99/members; $129/nonmember) fee for certification.
Telehealth is becoming more prevalent in the United States, especially since COVID. Santos (2021) wrote that telehealth is especially important in rural areas that often lack a healthcare provider. Those same rural areas might have weaker internet access, though. Enter the library. In rural Texas, one librarian realized that her patrons were having confidential conversations on the library floor, so she offered her office for privacy (Santos, 2021). The library applied for a grant from NNLM, and now a former storage room as been converted to a “room with its own entrance that has been outfitted for telemedicine visits” (p. 92).
Interview with Julie Robinson, Kansas City Public Library.
Julie Robinson is the Refugee and Immigrant Services & Empowerment Coordinator for KCPL. In this video she discusses the reciprocal nature of the relationships that she has created with immigrant and refugee groups in the Kansas City Area, as well as some of the health programming that she has been involved in through the library.
Arata, H. (2023, March 28). No Lock and Key: Teen Pantry Program. Programming Librarian.
Bushnell, M. (2022, Jan 19). Library, AmeriCorps assemble hygiene kits for unhoused. NorthEast News.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). What is Health Literacy?
Lenstra, N. (2018, March 20). Don’t Do It All Yourself: Creating Health Fairs through Partnerships. Programming Librarian.
Philley, H. (2006). Project to Research Alternatives for Dental Health Education Programs. Journal of Dental Hygiene, 80(1), 13.
Russinof, H. Raising Awareness of Dental Health. Public Libraries Online. https://publiclibrariesonline.org/2017/09/raising-awareness-of-dental-health/
Santos, M. C. (2021). Libraries as Telehealth Providers: A rural case study. Texas Library Journal, 97(1), 92–94.
Smith, Heather R. and Hare, Kristin (2020) “Thinking Outside of the (Lunch) Box: Building a Program Around Summer Feeding,” South Carolina Libraries: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 16. DOI: https://doi.org/10.51221/sc.scl.2020.4.1.5 Available at: https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/scl_journal/vol4/iss1/16