Advancing Community Health Engagement at Your Library

Liz Morris /

empty pathway image via clarkmaxwell on FlickrLibrary staff participants make our WebJunction webinars truly communal learning experiences. Our January 26 webinar on Pathways to Guide Health Education at Your Library was no exception. Participants provided great insight into the topics of maintaining professional ethics, addressing community health literacy, and supporting healthy communities through partnerships that were addressed by Library Services Trainer and author Francisca Goldsmith.

This webinar coincided with the release of the first of three community health engagement pathways being produced for public libraries as part of the Health Happens in Libraries project. Access the Supporting Healthy Communities through Health Information and Services pathway to explore core concepts and identify resources and actions that can guide your library in responding to this essential aspect of community service.

During February, we will release two more pathways, focused on Understanding Ethics and Privacy in Health Information and Services and Developing Health Literacy through Health Information and Services.

In the meantime, check out the full archive of the recent webinar, and read on for some great insight from fellow library practitioners.

Maintaining Professional Ethics

Professional ethics serve as guides to support any and all information work at your library, including matters of community health. Your library's privacy and confidentiality policy may have customized ethics guidelines, or refer to well-established principles, such as the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association.  

Take time to discuss with your colleagues how established policies and ethics may be applied to community health needs that occur in your library. Discuss, in advance, potential solutions to challenges that may exist between ethical principles and actual patron needs. Providing quality referrals, either to specific resources or other organizations, is central to ethical library services. One participant in our webinar chat noted the importance of verifying those referrals, and suggested,

“I think it is very important to check out how good your referrals are. In other words, call the phone number that you are giving out to people once in a while to make sure questions are answered there. Knowledgeable referrals are important!”

Shared pathway network image via Brisbane City Council on FlickrAddressing Community Health Literacy

Providing information in multiple formats is another way to provide ethical services and support community health literacy.

Health literacy is a subject on which many excellent resources exist, from organizations such as the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concepts of plain language underlie many health literacy efforts, and include an emphasis on ensuring that patrons can find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.

Providing patrons easy access to multi-media resources on health topics, such as videos and cool tools available for free from MedlinePlus, is a simple and effective way to support health literacy in your community. One webinar chat participant suggested, “to ensure that signage and visuals are clear so that information can be found easily,” particularly to help those who may not feel comfortable or confident asking for support. One simple strategy would be to support easy access is to put links to free health information databases like MedlinePlus and directly on your library’s homepage.

Supporting Healthy Communities through Partnerships

Health. Education. Workforce development. Civic engagement. Social connection. These are just some of the critical and integrated areas of individual empowerment and community development that libraries advance through partnerships. Webinar chat participants provided great examples of strengths that their community partners have brought to community health services at the library, including:

  • Serving as formal or informal "gate-keepers" to diverse populations;
  • Cultural sensitivity;
  • Licensed skills;
  • Avenues to other organizations;
  • Programming - particularly health talks, and;
  • A drive to make things happen.

Collaboration builds strength. Access the Supporting Healthy Communities through Health Information and Services pathway to launch or strengthen local collaborations for health in your community, and visit the webinar page, Pathways to Guide Health Education at Your Library, to view the full archive and additional resources.