Guest post by Derek Johnson, MLIS, Health Professionals Outreach Specialist for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Greater Midwest Region
Recent articles in Preventing Chronic Disease and The Nation’s Health chronicle how public libraries can complement the efforts of public health workers in community outreach and engagement. Data tell us that more Americans visit public libraries in a year (1.39 billion) than they do health care providers (990 million). More so, over 40% of computer-using patrons report using libraries to search for health information. However, we also know many individuals struggle with accessing and understanding the health information they encounter every day.
This challenge begs the question, “How does the National Library of Medicine (NLM) increase access to trustworthy health information to improve the health of communities across the United States?”
It’s an important question, and, as we celebrate National Public Health Week, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work NLM is doing through its National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) to bring libraries and public health together.
Take, for example, Richland County Public Health in Ohio. Richland County is approximately 33% rural. Many rural areas have been identified as “internet deserts.” In addition, adults in the county have lower rates of high school and college-level education compared to state averages. Seeking to address these disparities, Richland County Public Health applied for a funding award from NNLM’s Greater Midwest Region to develop an Interactive Health Information Kiosk in partnership with the county public library system.
With funding in hand, Richland County Public Health loaded select NLM resources onto specially configured iPads and installed them in the nine branches of the Richland County Libraries. A health educator trained library staff, local healthcare providers, and the public on how to use those resources to access trustworthy health information. Moving forward, librarians will be able to help patrons use the health kiosks. As a result, Richland County Public Health is helping improve health literacy among adult residents and, ultimately, enabling them to make more informed decisions about their health.
Another example of a public health and public library collaboration comes from NNLM’s Middle Atlantic Region (MAR). The Philadelphia Department of Public Health recognized the need to engage individuals in neighborhoods most vulnerable to severe weather events to increase their knowledge of disaster and emergency preparedness.
With funding from MAR, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health partnered with four branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia to train both librarians and local residents on emergency preparedness. Participants learned how to make use of the NLM Disaster Information Management Research Center and where to find local resources during weather-related emergencies.
These are just two of the many projects that NNLM helps facilitate across the country through its network of more than 7,500 library, public health, community-based, and other organizational members.
And, while NNLM continues to identify partnerships for funding public health and library projects, it also engages health educators by offering continuing education credit for Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES). CHES-certified professionals work in a variety of health care and public health settings where they help community members adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles. Health educators can earn continuing education credits by attending specially designated NNLM webinars on topics such as health statistics and evidence-based public health, with more courses in the works.
As communities continue to rely on the public health workforce to sustain and build healthy environments, know that the National Library of Medicine and its National Network of Libraries of Medicine are here to support the work they do!
Derek Johnson, MLIS is the Health Professionals Outreach Specialist for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Greater Midwest Region. In this capacity, he conducts training and outreach to public health professionals on a variety of topics, including evidence-based public health, health disparities, and community outreach.