Health and English West Country Libraries
An overview of projects in health and libraries Paula Younger, Librarian at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Weston-super-Mare, UK.
Tucked away in the English West Country, Somerset has always been an excellent place for partnership working between the NHS and other sectors of the library world. When the chance arose a few months ago to work on a partnership project with the local public libraries, our NHS library service jumped at it.
The thinking was that as NHS librarians, we would provide the “software” in the form of knowledge about healthcare resources. The public libraries provided the “hardware” (in this case, iPads) and, where available, the physical space and presence.
The public library service in Somerset recently made several dozen iPads available for free on a one-year loan, following a program of refurbishment, repurposing, and acquisition. This project follows an earlier program where library members could borrow iPads to help them access information about employment opportunities.
This time around, the iPads are preloaded with health information and links supplied, and double-checked by, the NHS librarian.
We’ve been working on the project since early spring. We have aimed to help library and healthcare staff get an overview of health literacy levels in the county.
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The CDC describes personal health literacy as “the degree to which individuals can find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”
One of the most startling findings, when The NHS prepared the initial training sessions, was learning how many people in Somerset struggle with health literacy. In Taunton Deane, the location of the most extensive public library, over 37% of residents between 16 and 64 have lower health literacy levels than the national UK average.
iPads Are a Go!
Public libraries are known as safe, welcoming, and inclusive spaces, although during COVID-19, it was necessary to be inventive with how libraries provided the services. With so much online information, not everyone finds it easy to access resources. One of the drivers that informed the original bid was this digital divide.
The English West Country is very rural, and while it may look small on the map, it can take a surprisingly long time to get from place to place, even by car. Public transport is variable too, especially as you get closer to the coast. Many local areas also have very erratic Wi-Fi or mobile phone signals, with a narrow choice of suppliers. Limited internet access means residents potentially miss out on the digital community and vast amounts of information.
One of the aims of the current healthcare information project is to reach those who wouldn’t usually be able to access digital devices. We hope our results will improve user confidence when looking up health information online. Libraries and the NHS can reassure users that it’s well-thought-out information, too — due partly to the PIF TICK and HONcode.
Early signs that we’re reaching the appropriate target group are encouraging.
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PIF TICK and the HONcode
All the links loaded on the iPads have been carefully considered and assessed. Some have the PIF TICK, described as “a UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information.” A previous scheme was known as the Information Standard. The PIF TICK isn’t the only Quality Mark in the UK. However, there are others, including the international HONcode certification.
These accreditations mean we can feel confident, as NHS librarians, that the information we signpost is trustworthy, up-to-date, and evidence-based. Users are also involved in the development of the data. And we regularly point out that we can signpost enquirers to information — what we can’t do is ADVISE on healthcare matters.
That’s where the Health Coaches come in.
Health Coaches in the Library
The Health Coaches are also NHS employees located in the main public library in Taunton, England, every weekday morning.
The NHS librarians delivered two health literacy awareness sessions. We customized the content for the two groups, public library staff, and health coaches. Our team learned vast amounts from offering those sessions. We’ll incorporate the feedback we’ve had into the next round of sessions.
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NHS Librarians Deliver Health Literacy Training — The Power of Teams
We’d hoped to be able to deliver our health literacy training in a physical room. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements, we had to adapt it for delivery via Teams. However, we could reach library staff in more remote parts of the county.
We found trying to incorporate some interactivity into the session something of a challenge. We used emojis and the chat window well and ensured participants had a notepad and pen handy!
One of the major draws in the public libraries for the past couple of months has been the M8 blood pressure monitoring machine — or “Fred” as he is sometimes (affectionately?) known. Users can check their blood pressure, height, weight, BMI, and pulse rate in one fell swoop.
There are also 200 portable blood pressure monitors available for library users to borrow across the county. Blood pressure readings can act as an early alert for hypertension. Research shows this is one of the most common conditions encountered in healthcare. It’s a significant risk factor for cardiovascular conditions.
Blood monitors might not be exactly what you expect to find for loan in a public library, but they’re already proving popular. There is no charge to use the blood pressure monitor. Funding for the pilot has come from local Public Health in Somerset and Health Education England.
As the Health in the Library program keeps growing, it’s hoped that more “Freds” might find a home in other regional libraries.
Next Steps in the Health Literacy Library Project?
We’re now at the stage in this pilot project where we need to assess what we’ve done so far. We must work out where to go next and how to sustain this long term.
If funding is withdrawn or suspended, then what can we do? What legacy can we leave?
The Health Literacy webinar presentations used to train the public library staff and the Health Coaches are available on a shared drive. And some accompanying LibGuides pages are a permanent work in progress. We’re currently exploring how to keep the information up-to-date. We can automate some of this, but human intervention is still required for some aspects.
As part of the project, and to give it a “friendlier” face, short animated films have been created using Powtoon software and a character called “Jane.” The first film is already available.
More short films are planned to keep “Jane” company very soon, and we also have events planned for Health Information Week. This annual event takes place in July. As NHS librarians, we’ll work with colleagues in public libraries and wider NHS, both in the hospital and the community.
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