In which I discover libraries supporting health and wellness – Part 3.

In Part 1 and Part 2, we’ve heard about numerous ways that libraries support the well-being of their communities. But one of the biggest ways that libraries encourage health and wellness among their patrons is through the programs they offer. In this post, I’d like to offer just a sample of what I’ve found in terms of health-themed programming at public libraries.

Libraries are known for their commitment to literacy, whether of the reading-and-writing variety, or information and digital literacy. However, some librarians also feel that kinetic or physical literacy and food/nutrition literacy can and should be supported in their library community.

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In a study of movement-based programs in American and Canadian public libraries, Noah Lenstra discussed the popularity of these programs for all age groups. In the sample of 1,157 public libraries that participated in the “Let’s Move in Libraries” survey, it was found that yoga classes were the most frequent program offering, followed by movement-based early literacy programs, gardening, dancing, and StoryWalks, as well as outdoor activities and fitness challenges.

In a 2016 article on fitness in public libraries, Public Libraries Online reported on the Sonoma County Libraries in California, which received federal grant money to offer programs like cardio kickboxing, yoga, meditation, and healthy cooking. Also in California, a branch of the Sacramento Public Library provided Punk Rock Aerobics and Zombie Survival Fitness classes to their patrons. In 2018, the same publication highlighted the success of a Couch-to-5K Runners Group organized by the public library in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in partnership with a local running store.

A bit more recently, and closer to home, I can report that my local public library in central New York has offered Dance Exercise classes for adults. The nearby Hamilton Public Library offered Chair Yoga and a meditation class in October. And it’s not just in the United States. Last month, British libraries celebrated their annual Libraries Week focused on the theme of wellbeing with some libraries taking part by offering yoga, Tai Chi, belly dancing, and a Smoothy Bike (which is a bike that, when pedaled, powers a blender that makes healthy fruit-based beverages.)

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Speaking of healthy foods, culinary literacy is another way that public libraries are promoting wellness in their communities, often using mobile kitchens to help teach about nutrition, safe food preparation, and more. The Free Library of Philadelphia has opened a Culinary Literary Center, a “commercial-grade kitchen that serves as a classroom and dining space” and helps teach “skills that help parents make recipes fit their families’ needs and emphasize nutrition and health literacy to help with disease prevention.” But it’s not necessary to have expensive equipment to provide these types of programs. Right here in central New York, the small but charming Smyrna Public Library has partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County to offer healthy home-cooking classes which demonstrate easy-to-make vegetable-based recipes.

Whether supporting health and wellness by means of physical fitness or food literacy, thousands of public libraries — large and small — are now providing health-based programs to support community wellness. Their aim is not to replace other fitness or healthcare providers, but to offer the community free access to opportunities that might lead to better health.

What about your local library? Does it offer yoga, Tai Chi, or other fitness classes? How about programs on nutrition or healthy cooking? If not, what sorts of healthy programs would encourage you to visit your public library?

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In which I discover libraries supporting health and wellness – Part 2.

In my previous post I wrote about librarians answering health information questions and libraries that hire social workers, nurses, and other professionals to assist patrons in their health-related needs. Now let’s talk about what else libraries are doing to support the physical and mental health of their patrons.

Inviting in visiting health services is one way that libraries can address the health needs of their communities even if they can’t afford to hire a nurse or social worker as a full-time member of the staff. Through partnerships with local healthcare organizations, many libraries are able to offer health screenings and vaccine clinics, with flu shots and blood pressure checks being among the most frequently offered services.

Earlier this year, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle published an article about the Rochester Public Library’s partnership with Rochester Regional Health to facilitate periodic visits of a mobile dentist unit to the central library “to provide homeless patrons with cleanings, extractions and other needed dental procedures.” The Central Library also works with University of Rochester medical students to offer health screenings such as glucose checks and eye exams.

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Testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is another service that has become increasingly popular. In Nebraska, testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea was offered to library patrons at ten library branches in Omaha by members of the Douglas County Health Department. During a four year period, more than 2300 tests were administered in the library branches and researchers found that this was a good way to reach a younger (under age 19) asymptomatic segment of the population, who might not visit traditional STI clinics. In New York, a partnership between Albany Public Library and the Albany Medical College resulted in free rapid HIV testing being offered in five city branches. In California, Pasadena Central Library recently hosted free HIV and hepatitis C screening, in partnership with local health organizations, as part of National Coming Out Day.

Physical health is not the only focus of wellness-themed services. Mental health is another area in which libraries are offering support to their communities. In Sacramento, California, many library staff have completed a “Mental Health First Aid” training program to help them identify the signs of mental illness and substance abuse in order to better assist patrons. This training “aims to ‘demystify’ mental illness and teach staffers how best to approach people in crisis and guide them to professional help.”

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Other libraries offer more casual mental health assistance. Luck Public Library in Wisconsin offers a weekly mindfulness program hosted by a library staff member. The program, called “Breathe,” is a guided practice that requires no prior experience and is open to everyone. Many libraries use the services of therapy dogs – canines that are specially trained to provide psychological support – as a calm and friendly listening ear for young readers, although other libraries have extended their therapy dog programs to reach teens as well.

You may be asking yourself why libraries are getting involved in areas that may seem more appropriately handled by medical or psychological professionals. Certainly, libraries are not trying to be hospitals or doctors’ offices or take over the responsibility of community health from healthcare providers. But libraries are one of the few indoor spaces in society that are free and open to everyone, and host more than 1.39 billion visits per yearAccording to a Pew Research Center survey, 73% of people aged 16+ believe that libraries are important to people looking for health information. It makes sense that libraries, which are trusted  institutions that specialize in meeting community needs, would be involved as local partners in health and wellness promotion. In some situations, libraries may be one of the few community spaces where vulnerable populations feel welcome and safe, which makes them good venues for health and wellness outreach.

Are you sick (pun intended) of hearing about libraries supporting health and wellness? I hope not, because I have one more post coming on this topic. Next time, we’ll explore the wide variety of health and wellness programs (especially movement-based programs) that libraries offer their patrons.

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?

In which I hope I would do better.

Know what makes me happy? Stories about librarianship changing lives for the positive.
Know what makes me sad? Stories about libraries falling down on the job.
Of course, I’d prefer to share the former type of story on my blog. My purpose, after all, is to promote all kinds of librarianish goodness that I encounter while pursuing my adventures. But I think it’s also important to remember that librarians make mistakes and examining those mistakes can be a learning experience. So, I’ll share a tale of library failure in the hope that I won’t make the same mistake if I’m ever in a similar situation.

In researching ways that public libraries support the health and wellness needs of their communities, I came across A Pilot Study of Health Information Resource Use in Rural Public Libraries in Upstate New York by Mary Grace Flaherty and Michael E. Luther from 2011. (Unless you have access to the scholarly journal Public Library Quarterly, you’ll probably only be able to see the article’s abstract, but not the full text. Sorry about that, but I’ll do my best to summarize.) I was particularly interested in this study because I live in rural upstate New York and am generally very pleased with the services I receive at my own public libraries. I was expecting to read good things.

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In their study, Flaherty and Luther sent recent graduates of a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science program into 10 libraries to ask the reference question, “Do vaccines cause autism?” The point of this was to discover what kinds of health information resources the library staff would point the questioners towards. What the researchers found was that in only two cases out of 10 did library staff provide material from credible sources that actually addressed the question asked. In eight of the 10 cases, library staff provided material that did not even answer the question. Resources provided were often out of date or non-authoritative, and some were anecdotal and non-scientific materials that warned of the dangers of vaccines, rather than information from current, reputable, medically-based sources.

Think about that for a second… 80% of libraries did not provided resources that addressed the question that was asked. That’s an astounding failure rate. It’s especially concerning if you consider the trust that people place in their libraries when seeking health-related information. According to a Pew Research Center article, “73% of all [people surveyed] ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need.” Patrons are relying on library staff to guide them to appropriate resources to answer their health-related questions and (at least in the case of the Flaherty & Luther study) 80% of libraries are letting them down.

I know the sample of size of this study – 10 public libraries – is very small and generalizations cannot be made from it about all public libraries. I know the article reporting on the study is from 2011. Maybe things have changed for the better since then. It’s also worth pointing out that the people asking the questions in this study were library students who presumably knew how to find answers from credible sources on their own. But I’m disappointed to think of all the patrons who may not be getting good information when they visit those eight problematic upstate libraries.

Since I hope someday to work at an upstate New York public library, what lessons will I take away from this situation so that I don’t do what other library staff did?

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Note to self
  • Of course, I’m going to remember that I am a librarian and not a healthcare provider, so I won’t offer medical advice, but point patrons towards reliable resources that can help answer their health-related questions.
  • If I’m the one answering reference questions, I’m going to make damned sure to direct patrons to up-to-date, credible resources. Off the top of my head, I’d probably make MedlinePlus my first stop in directing people to health-related information, since it’s run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  • It’s probably worth checking out the new Libraries Transform Health Literacy Toolkit from the American Library Association and National Network of Libraries of Medicine. I’d hope this would help me learn about other current, authoritative sources of health information that I could use in my work.
  • I might even pursue a Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) certification offered by the Medical Library Association if I want to be really hardcore in serving the health information needs of my community.
  • If I’m the library director and not the one answering reference questions directly, I’ll develop a library policy regarding answering health questions and encourage and empower my staff to learn which resources are preferable to others for this purpose.

Now that I’ve pontificated for a bit, I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever sought health information from your local public library? Were you happy with the answer you received? What resources do you use when you have a health-related question? How do you know they’re authoritative?

 

In which I license this blog under Creative Commons.

In my IST 601 class (Information & Information Environments) we learned a little about copyright. Basically, “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” – like my writing and any original images, audio, or video I might create for this blog – are protected under U.S. copyright law. This means that I have “the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, license, and to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work.” (For some reason that last sentence makes me want to childishly chant “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” just for fun. I don’t know why.)copyright-30343_640

Basically, I know that I have rights to my original work. And, though I can’t imagine anyone beating down my door and demanding permission to reproduce my work, I’m actually perfectly willing to share the creative content of this blog for public use, with a few restrictions. That’s where a Creative Commons license comes in.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free, legal copyright licenses indicating under what terms I (and others) are willing to share our work. In my case, I’ve chosen a Attribution-NonCommercial license, which means you don’t have to ask permission, just go ahead and share, copy, redistribute, or adapt what I’ve created, as long as you give me appropriate credit and don’t use it for commercial purposes.

Creative Commons License
The Adventures of Library Heather is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://libraryheather.com.

Although I’ve only scratched the surface in learning about copyright, fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons, I find the whole subject area completely fascinating. I’m planning to take a copyright class before I finish grad school.

If you’re interested in learning more about copyright and Creative Commons, check out this short video:


Wanna Work Together? from Creative Commons on Vimeo.

In which I learn a new skill.

Today at work, I did something very exciting. Although I’ve been a Wikipedia user for many years, today I became a… *insert trumpet fanfare*… Wikipedia editor. I even got a whole page of shiny badges to show for it. Granted, I did so by completing a fairly simple, step-by-step tutorial. But a new skill is a new skill, and I’d argue that learning how to write and edit Wikipedia articles is a somewhat valuable skill. I really love learning how to do new stuff. I must not let this new-found power go to my head.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges! (But it's nice to have them anyhow.)
Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges! (But it’s nice to have them anyhow.)

In which I am tempted to over-commit.

On the first day of Reference class, Professor Jill Hurst-Wahl shared a list she’d compiled of “Advice and Wisdom for New Graduate Students.” I’m finding it quite helpful. Take a peek and you’ll see that I’ve already highlighted a few of the most useful phrases. One of them is:

“Network, don’t be shy. Volunteer. Be active in any of the out of classroom activities.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. Unless I’m feeling particularly introverted, networking, volunteering, and being active in extra-curricular activities are my idea of fun. And there’s so much to get involved with. I’ve been attending weekly meetings of the Library and Information Science Student Assembly (LISSA), the iSchool’s chapter of the American Library Association (ALA). As a result of those meetings, I’ve already signed up for the following activities:

Based on opportunities I’ve heard about elsewhere, I’d also really enjoy:

Completely reasonable, right?
Completely reasonable, right?

Oh, and I’m currently taking three classes and working 20 hours a week. I also have a husband I enjoy spending time with, a niece and nephews who live close enough to visit, and friends in Hamilton whom I miss. Do you see the problem? In the absence of a TARDIS or a time-turner,  I cannot possibly do all the mega-interesting things I’m convinced I simply must do.

Which brings me to the second crucial piece of Advice and Wisdom from the Reference class handout:

Don’t over-extend yourself.

I wondered (aloud, in class) how to reconcile those two contradictory bits of wisdom: get involved but don’t over-extend yourself. In response, I received the wisest tip yet, not from the handout, but from my professor:

You don’t have to do everything. It’s OK to say no to some things.

Simple advice, but will I listen? After a series of deep breaths and the donning of my thinking cap, I’ve crossed some non-essential items off the second list. (I’ll leave you to discover which ones.) We’ll see if I can become a more balanced person who commits just enough but not too much. Please wish me luck!

What about you? Do you over-extend? Wish you volunteered more? How would you prioritize my lists if you were me? I’d love to hear from librarians and non-librarians alike.

In which I start a blog.

Welcome to the Adventures of Library Heather. I’m a brand-spanking-new Master of Library and Information Science student at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Having survived my first week of grad school (after a 14 year hiatus from academia, mind you) without running mad or fainting, I decided that the infant steps of my new career would be an excellent topic for a blog, even if I’m the only one who reads it.

I may eventually submit this blog as a Maker Activity project for my IST 511 class, but honestly, it’s something I was already planning to do, and my intention is to continue it through grad school and into my career as a librarian.

This way to librarian adventures.
This way to librarian adventures.

(What is a Maker Activity, you might be asking? That’s what I also asked when I started exploring graduate programs and started following librarians on Twitter. Librarians these days are all about maker spaces – and I say that in an awe-filled and enthusiastic tone. The short answer: places to create knowledge, ideally, sometimes with physical objects to show for it. The Fayetteville Free Library has three makerspaces. I’ll be checking them out in a few weeks.)

In which I explain my blog post titles
Being a voracious reader, I’ve always pictured my life as an adventure with myself as the protagonist. I try to live by Nora Ephron’s advice, “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.” As a fan of 18th- and 19th-century English novels, I enjoy reading about the thrilling changes of fortune and often unbelievable circumstances found in novels like The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I especially like the old-fashioned literary trope of using a descriptive title to summarize the whole chapter, usually styled as “In which the hero(ine) does such-and-such.” Although I trust my library career will follow an upward trajectory, unmarred by wicked schoolmasters or bigamous marriages, I believe it will still be an exciting and occasionally amusing quest for knowledge, both for me and anyone who kindly reads this blog.

Please join me on the journey.