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.
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.)
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?