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 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.

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