OCLC is a global library cooperative that provides shared technology services, original research and community programs for its membership and the library community at large. In 2013, OCLC partnered with ZeroDivide, a technology impact consulting firm, to launch Health Happens in Libraries.
Health Happens in Libraries began with the goal of increasing public library staff capacity to respond to patron information needs regarding the launch of the health insurance marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act. Given the rapid release and evolution of information about the act’s policies and the various state operating models, Health Happens in Libraries equipped the public library community with information on how to identify up-to-date, authoritative resources about the marketplace that could be shared with patrons. During the first year of the program (2013–2014), the program collaborators connected over ten thousand library professionals with relevant information on this complex topic and also surfaced examples of unique library responses and partnerships. The program connected with participants by hosting several national webinars about the health insurance marketplace and consumer health information resources, and by producing local and state library case studies (all of which are freely available at WebJunction.org). Collaboration with national agencies, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and National Network of Libraries of Medicine, was essential to sharing timely and actionable information with established and emerging networks of public libraries interested in public health.
The program team also identified the opportunity to increase the confidence of public library staff working with health information and services, and to support partnerships between public libraries and local partners to advance community health priorities. In the second year of the program (2014–2015), the program team customized health information resources for public library staff, including a communications guide and health information service pathways addressing health literacy, privacy and ethics, and community partnerships (all freely available at the program resources page). To explore community partnership opportunities and activities, five public libraries were selected from a pool of seventy-four applicants to work with the Health Happens in Libraries team to develop and deliver community health engagement activities in collaboration with local partners. Public libraries that participated in the program include:
These five libraries represent both urban and rural populations, with service populations ranging from six thousand to over nine hundred thousand. Each library received a stipend, planning guide, and received facilitated support to identify local partners and to plan and reflect on the outcomes of their community health engagement between January 2015 and July 2015. A case study of each library’s experience documents their processes and outcomes (featured during a poster session at the 2015 American Library Association conference in San Francisco). The Health Happens in Libraries team worked with a primary point of contact at each of these libraries, and much of the learning with this small sample set occurred organically throughout the process through regularly scheduled meetings with all participants, to share their experiences and insights with one another.
These libraries ultimately engaged nine community partners and over 380 event participants in their unique programs. Public library participants each served unique roles in their respective libraries, including a county librarian, a director, an information and outreach specialist, a reference librarian, and a system administration librarian. This range of roles emphasized the relevance of institutional support in empowering staff members to advance innovative library programming. The collective insight and recommendations for future public library service regarding community health varied from embracing an expanded definition of health to providing healthy motivation and incentives to community participants.
In the third and final article of this series, we will share key learning from each of the five participating public libraries and their efforts to advance health information and services in their communities. See the Part I and Part II.
Erin Schadt and Kendra Morgan contributed to this article.
Note: This article is an extension of a poster presentation from OCLC and program partners from ZeroDivide at the American Library Association annual conference in June 2015, titled “Health Happens in Libraries through Community Engagement.” Comprehensive program resources can be accessed at http://oc.lc/ehealth.