Taking Control of Your Health and Wellbeing Starts at the Library
When you or a loved one have received a medical diagnosis, navigating the world of health information available can be a confusing and frightening prospect. Fortunately, your local public library can help you during this difficult time by providing valuable assistance in locating relevant, credible and authoritative sources for consumer health information. Libraries also serve as community centers for wellness, public health services and health support, often partnering with local hospitals or regional and national public organizations to provide various kinds of outreach services to library users.
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Although librarians are not able to provide actual medical advice to the community, they can help promote health information literacy to library users by providing access to current and reliable health information as well as guidance and instruction in how to find, evaluate and use both print and online consumer health resources. In October 2017 the Public Library Association launched an information website Healthy Community Tools for Public Libraries as a compilation of training resources as well as a list of trustworthy health science websites and databases. Partnering with the American Library Association and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, the PLA also published the Health Literacy Toolkit (registration required) as part of the ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign to help recognize the important role that public libraries play in providing trusted health information to their communities.
As public libraries serve as hubs for community groups and programs, you can find support groups for various medical issues that meet at the library. In many cases these groups are lead by licensed or trained facilitators. At the Wilmette Public Library in Illinois there are support groups for ADHD, adults with Type 1 Diabetes and even a group for the families of patients who struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The Tama County Dyslexia Support Group meets monthly at the Toledo Public Library in Toledo, Iowa. Libraries also feature support groups for mental health: the Blair Public Library and Technology Center in Blair, Nebraska hosts a professionally-guided mental health support group; and the Fairfield, Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) holds a bi-monthly book club featuring books that focus on mental health and the brain at the Fairfield Public Library.
Not only do public libraries host support groups for specific diagnoses, but libraries offer space to groups for general support as well — the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, Kentucky offers monthly meetings for those who suffer from chronic illnesses, providing them and their families a safe place to share their feelings, vent their frustrations and connect with others in the community for advice and support. The New York Public Library’s Community Conversations Café at the 67th Street Library offers a regular forum where physicians and medical scientists can dialogue with members of the public, encouraging a “respectful and constructive exchange” of information between professionals and nonprofessionals and providing a platform for the experts to dispel misinformation and fear concerning hot topic medical issues.
In addition to helping with locating information and finding support, libraries also often partner with local health care providers to expand their reach with the community. For example, many libraries offer regular blood pressure screenings with public health nurses through their local Health Department or hold blood drives with the American Red Cross. In the Pima County Library System in Arizona the libraries have a team of public health nurses as well as a full-time dedicated library nurse who offer nursing assessment, case management, nutrition and health education, resource assessment, blood pressure screenings, referrals and outreach.
While there is no substitute for actual health care and medical advice provided by a licensed and board-certified medical professional, public libraries are able to contribute to the community’s well-being not only by offering consumer health information, health literacy tools and support, but by doing so with the highest levels of compassion for library users and the utmost regard for their privacy. Public librarians are often the first faces that people turn to when they receive unsettling or confusing news about their health — although they will never take the place of a physician or nurse, nevertheless librarians play a critical role in promoting wellness through sharing knowledge, understanding and empathy with the members of their community.