In which I discover libraries supporting health and wellness – Part 1.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been researching how public libraries support health and wellness in their communities. Yes, I did find an example of libraries doing a bad job of providing credible health information to their patrons. (You can read about it here.) But October is Health Literacy Month, so now it’s time to focus on the myriad ways in which libraries do an excellent job of promoting health and wellness.

On July 12, 2018, two library staff members at Emily Fowler Central Library in Denton, Texas literally saved a man’s life. By performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on an unconscious patron, they kept the man alive while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Librarians across the country are also “saving lives in the stacks” by being trained to use the drug Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses in their workplaces. These are just two examples of public libraries supporting the health and wellness needs of their communities; there are numerous others. Although public librarians are not medical professionals, and public libraries are not medical buildings, they nevertheless have a long history of supporting the physical, mental, and social health of their patrons.

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One way that public libraries are meeting community health and wellness needs is by providing health information to their patrons. This can be a challenge. After all, librarians are not there to provide medical advice, but they can and should provide access to accurate and authoritative information that will answer the patron’s questions.

So, how do librarians know what the best sources of information are? One resource is http://publiclibrary.health, a toolkit from by the Public Library Association to provide healthy community tools for public libraries. An increasing number of public librarians are also pursuing Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) certification, which is offered through the Medical Library Association (MLA) and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM). This training prepares a librarian to be a “confident, expert provider of health information to [their] community” by addressing topics like:

  • getting to know the community and health consumers
  • learning about both general and specialized health resources that can be used to aid patrons
  • how to evaluate health information for quality
  • effective communication techniques and training patrons to use health resources
  • understanding health literacy and how to help patrons who may have low levels of health literacy
  • technology and health
  • ethical and legal issues surrounding the provision of health information

As stated earlier, public librarians are not healthcare workers and most know when they have reached the limits of their professional abilities to help patrons with health-related needs. So they have learned to call in reinforcement. In recent years, several public libraries have addressed the health and wellness needs of their patrons by hiring social workers, nurses, and other professionals as an official part of the staff to help address issues that librarians may not be qualified to tackle.

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Social workers as library staff are not an entirely new idea. In 2009, the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library became the first library in the country to hire a psychiatric social worker as a full-time member of their staff. Since then, an estimated 30 more public libraries have followed suit to the point where public library social work is considered an emerging field. Library social workers may provide support to vulnerable populations — such as the homeless or low income individuals seeking help accessing social services like food stamps and Medicaid — and offer training to library staff in how to sensitively interact with patrons with a variety of needs. They may also work in a supervisory capacity, overseeing other social workers on staff, or even hiring patrons to assist their work. For example, at the Denver Public Library there is a peer navigator program which hires former homeless individuals and recovering addicts to help provide support to those currently affected by drugs and homelessness. (There is a great 10-minute video about this library program and one of the peer navigators. You can watch it here.)

Social workers are not the only health and wellness professionals to find their place on a public library staff. The Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Arizona has hired a registered nurse to assist patrons at the main library building. The Library Nurse service is the result of a partnership with the Pima County Department of Health to make the library and safe and welcoming place for all patrons. The nurse helps to achieve this goal by providing intervention when patrons become disruptive or need medical care, training other library staff in ways to help de-escalate problematic patron encounters, supplying confidential physical assessments, case management, and basic first aid services to patrons, as well as administering flu vaccines, helping patrons sign up for health insurance, and working with other community partners to institute an after-school snack program for approximately 300 children. And all of this is done at the public library.

I have lots more information to share about public libraries supporting health and wellness in their communities, but I think this is a good stopping place for now. Stay tuned for future installments, when I’ll talk about visiting health services, mental health, and the fun health-based library programs and activities that I learned about in my investigations.

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts. Did you know about social workers and nurses being hired full-time by libraries to help patrons? What do you think of the idea? Are libraries good partners in solving the pressing health needs of a community?

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In which seniors get taken for a ride (and libraries are involved).

Don’t worry, I mean “taken for a ride” in the literal sense (i.e. in a car) rather than in the figurative sense of “having been cheated or deceived.” In fact, far from being cheated, the senior citizens I’m going to tell you about have been provided a wonderful service, and it’s thanks in part to their local libraries.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always on the lookout for library programs and services that don’t necessarily have to do with books or even occur inside the library building. I happened upon the New York Library Association‘s eBulletin and this article about the WestSide Express Transportation Service, a volunteer ride-sharing program that’s offered to senior citizens in two communities in Rochester New York.

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Image used with permission from WestSide Express.

How WestSide Express works is that seniors may call to request one ride per week to medical or dental appointments, the bank, the pharmacy, an attorney’s office, government agencies, a senior center, or the library. Dispatchers match seniors with volunteer drivers who then provide the rides needed, free of charge.

What’s really cool about this program, other than that it exists in the first place, is how involved the local public libraries – the Chili Public Library and the Gates Public Library – have been in its creation and maintenance. To be sure, the libraries aren’t doing it alone. They’re working in partnership with local entities such as Lifespan, the Chili Senior Center, Gates Recreation, Dunn Tower Apartments, and a whole host of community churches. But the libraries are playing an important role in helping local senior citizens improve the quality of their lives by facilitating access to transportation in this way.

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Photo used with permission from WestSide Express.

Beyond the original article, I learned a lot about WestSide Express from Jennifer Freese, Assistant Director of the Chili Public Library. She’s been with the project since the initial discussions began in 2014 in response to the challenge of “seniors being unable to find reliable transportation,” through the official launch in 2015, to what the program has become today. I was very interested to learn about the skills and competencies that she felt a librarian would need to be involved in a project like this. Among them were “effectively running meetings, compromise, delegation, making brochures, invitations [and other promotional material], and reporting” both to Lifespan (the program’s parent organization) and to the library director. Because I hope someday to be a credentialed, innovative librarian, I’m always curious about the proficiencies I should be developing and honing now as a student.

I was also happy to find that this project reinforced what I learned in my IST 613 class on library planning, marketing, and assessment. The people behind WestSide Express got to know their community and identified a specific need. They developed a mission statement and a plan to realize that mission. They successfully market their service in locations where the intended audience is likely to see it. And they conduct an annual assessment to evaluate the success of the program and make refinements as needed.

In short, WestSide Express is an excellent example of libraries thinking outside their own buildings, assessing community needs, and meeting patrons where they are.

OK, now that I’ve shared my example, it’s your turn. Do you know of a library that is doing something similar? What innovative programs or services have you heard about that go above and beyond what people expect from a library? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

In which I discuss pancakes and librarianship.

What do pancakes have to do with librarianship? Admit it, that’s what you’re wondering. I will do my best to explain.

I’m interested in innovative library programs that don’t have to do with books. (Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But I want to spread the message that libraries are more than buildings full of reading materials and are instead vital community spaces about exploration and learning.) In searching for exciting new non-book library services I came across an item in American Libraries magazine about one library’s use of PancakeBot. PancakeBot is a 3D printer for pancakes… you design your pancake, fill the device with batter, and then it “prints” the design onto a hot griddle which cooks the pancake. Pretty cool, huh?

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Image shared with permission of PancakeBot.

Yes, that’s really cool, Heather, but again… what does it have to do with librarianship?

In the American Libraries magazine article, I learned that librarian supervisor Alix Freck from the Alachua County Library District in Florida uses PancakeBot to promote culinary literacy and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) learning among youth in the community. “Participants first watch a video of the PancakeBot’s inventor describing his invention process, then explore several different stations in the room… The batter-making station requires participants to follow directions, read instructions, practice fine motor skills, and use math. The next station features laptops with PancakePainter software… in which participants design a pancake” which they then watch print on PancakeBot.

In the case of this library, PancakeBot is being used as a tool for exploration and learning. Not only is it a gateway to investigating STEAM concepts with youth but it can attract patrons to other making opportunities the library has to offer. It is a fascinating and innovative non-book technology that Alachua County Library District has deployed for community engagement and outreach. And that’s what pancakes have to do with librarianship.

pancakebot
Young patrons watching PancakeBot work its magic. Image shared with permission of Alix Freck, Alachua County Library District. Photo credit: Ashley Albinson