Of all the wonderful signs and sounds heralding a change in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, none is more welcome than the news that public libraries are reopening. If you, like me, remember spending hot summer afternoons in the cool, air-conditioned library, this mid-summer news may bring a smile to your face. For me, as NLM director, this means that NLM will once again have another pathway to help people all over the country access the resources of NLM from their community library.
As public libraries closed their buildings during the pandemic, library staff continued to serve their communities in innovative ways, including home delivery of library books by bike from the Hinsdale Public Library. The joys of reopening are shared by patrons and staff alike, as illustrated in this photo essay from The New York Times:
Working in libraries “feels like home,” Mishael Gis, 28 [a patron], told me. She was using a computer for taxes and research. The scene felt like a homecoming.
Michael Rios, 45, a librarian for children, has spent the pandemic helping readers remotely. But what he likes is helping kids find the unexpected: “I help people search, physically. That’s the part that speaks to me. So, this is great. Huge.”
NLM has a special relationship with public libraries. Many public libraries are members of our Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) and have access to, through NNLM’s seven Regional Medical Libraries, specialized training and resources that enable patrons to tap into the resources and knowledge base of NLM. As members of the NNLM, staff of those libraries have access to hundreds of courses and learning resources provided at no cost, bringing new knowledge about data science and communicating health information to a wide range of audiences.
Public libraries also provide NLM with a ‘finger on the pulse’ of communities around the nation. This helps us understand what kinds of health information are most valued and how to best deliver it.
NLM’s relationship with public libraries supports NIH and provides a mutually beneficial way to leverage partnerships around the country and bring information and opportunities about NIH research programs into communities. For more than 5 years, our NNLM has partnered with NIH’s All of Us Research Program to provide community-based information about participating in this ambitious effort. All of Us is building a diverse community of more than 1 million participants across the country to help researchers learn more about how genetics, environment, and lifestyles affect individuals’ health, especially those in communities who have historically been excluded from large-scale research programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NNLM also partnered with the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities to use community-engaged strategies to reduce the burden of COVID-19 among communities disproportionately affected.
Come celebrate with me! The public libraries are opening! The public libraries are opening!