Library Staff Members as Health Literacy First Responders

Liz Morris /

Misinformation about health abounds in today’s info-glutted environment. What does this mean for public libraries, and what role can they play in addressing issues of accurate health information?

A panel of excellent presenters addressed this topic in a recent WebJunction webinar, Public Health and Public Libraries: Librarians as Health Literacy First Responders. The full archive for this webinar is currently available, along with a number of excellent resources provided by the presenters, including a learner guide.

Anita Kinney, a Program Analyst with the United States Access Board, discussed what health literacy is, and how it impacts communities. She also shared some useful data points from the Pew Health Online 2013 study, indicating the frequency in which adults look for health information online. Health literacy skills are essential for individual health management, and libraries can model the information literacy expertise that builds these skills.

Graphic: Health Online 2013, Pew Research Center

Christian Minter, Nebraska/Education Coordinator with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) MidContinental Region, provided an overview of the resources available to public libraries, from NN/LM, to support them in deepening their understanding of local community health needs and identifying relevant referral and partnership resources. One of the most direct steps a public library staff member interested in community health information can take is to identify the NN/LM Regional Medical Library serving their state here, explore existing resources, and sign up for a (free!) membership to stay connected to services and support from NN/LM. According to NN/LM, “Members can request specialized training in providing health information through National Library of Medicine resources. Members are also eligible for funding for health information projects.”

Map: National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM)

And speaking of health information projects, Lydia Collins, a Consumer Health Coordinator with the NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region, concluded the webinar with a number of public library programming ideas for children, teens, and adults, building off of resources available from NN/LM and other trusted agencies. The NIH Senior Health site and related Trainer’s Toolkit are examples of population specific information that can be made meaningful to communities with facilitated library support.

The webinar presenters reminded us that, when it comes to providing health information at your library, no activity is too small. Be sure to contact your local NN/LM for support getting started or sustaining your momentum in community health. WebJunction’s Health Happens in Libraries team also provides a number of resources customized for public libraries to guide your practice. As cornerstones of strong communities, libraries providing reliable health information services contribute to the health and wellness of those they serve. We hope these resources will help you get started with confidence!