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Dispatches from PLA 2014: Creating a Health Literate City

by on April 21, 2014

This informative program was presented by Celeste Choate, formerly of Ann Arbor Public Library and now of Urbana Free Library, and Kate Saylor, Outreach Coordinator and Liaison Librarian at University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library.

The speakers provided an overview of what two libraries were able to accomplish in health literacy in their community, as well as advice for how to set up similar programs in your own library. National Institutes of Health offers “Partners in Research” grants. Ann Arbor District Library and the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library, along with the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research, partnered to “address the need for community engagement in clinical research by incorporating community expertise and knowledge in several innovative strategies designed to raise the level of literacy, awareness, and participation in clinical research.”

The partners planned Health Research Forums on 11 topics that were conducted over an 18 month period at the Ann Arbor District Library:

  • Genetic Risks and Cancer
  • Medical Innovations
  • Overcoming Obesity
  • Understanding Alzheimers
  • Hungry Planet, Hungry Schools
  • Women’s Heart & Health
  • OCD Across the Lifespan
  • Low Vision & Glaucoma
  • The Other Women’s Cancers
  • Prevention & Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes
  • From Illness to Activist: Kris Carr Author of ‘Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips’

Their biggest turn-out was for “Overcoming Obesity” because they got “The Biggest Loser” star Pete Thomas to come as their lay expert. Surprisingly, patrons asked more questions of the researchers! Both libraries set up tables in the foyer to promote their health resources and the event was promoted on both Facebook and Twitter (with Kate live-tweeting each event).

Even without a grant, libraries can find partners who will work with them for free! Any organization funded by NIH has to go out in the community as part of their grant obligations, so look for those medical centers. Researchers always need people in clinical trials and they don’t want to be paid to come out and recruit. Other non-profit health organizations may also be willing to partner to provide free health literacy events.

Choate and Saylor recommended libraries look for their state’s outreach libraries and see if they can do trainings for patrons and/or staff. It could also be helpful to check with the State or County Health Department to see what health issues are the biggest concerns in your community. Many organizations are out there that are enthusiastic about spreading health literacy. Most are willing to partner with the public library for FREE since we often have the community space needed for such events as well as the consumers they need to reach.


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