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.