The following success factors were identified by libraries participating in Health Happens in Libraries and can be useful starting points to engage your colleagues and local partners:
Foster leadership support for innovative programming. The primary staff contact at Hampton Public Library had ongoing support from her library director to implement creative and inclusive programming as part of reference services. Look to your library’s vision, mission statement, charter, or strategic plan, and identify two to three ways in which providing community health support reinforces that mission. Share these ideas with your colleagues, manager, or board.
Embrace an expanded definition of health. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library referenced local health assessments and community data to embrace an internal understanding that health needs and barriers go beyond diseases, conditions, and healthcare providers and instead involve the full social safety net of the community. Explore local health and other demographic data to understand unique needs and opportunities for health information support in your community.
Employ event planning expertise and outreach savvy. Public libraries have run successful community events for decades. Whether it’s a preschool storytime, a technology training, or a healthy foods cooking competition, the same basic principles for planning, prioritizing, and seeking ongoing public and partner input can make any event a success. The Crandon Public Library focused on consistent outreach as part of their planning process to ensure community participation. If you haven’t planned an event for your library, ask for guidance from somebody else on staff, or seek that expertise in a partner organization.
Meet patrons where they are. Just because a community member doesn’t come to the library, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in library services. With local partners, explore other safe and trusted spaces where patrons gather and discuss opportunities to provide services there. The target audience for the St. Charles Parish Library event was individuals who use food bank services. The decision to host the event at a food bank allowed for direct promotion to participants, as well as an accessible, familiar, and safe space for participants to discuss their healthy eating priorities and learn about what the library has to offer.
Provide healthy motivation. The library and health department at Wilkes County Public Library provided participants with meaningful resources to encourage their ongoing involvement in a multi-week chronic disease self-management program. In addition to the educational experience, participants enjoyed dinner during each of the evening workshops, as well as daily door prizes (such as relaxation CDs and pedometers). Investing in incentives for participants to access health information or services at your library can help motivate them to invest in their health over time.
Intentional collaboration and shared understanding of needs and opportunities between public libraries and other local organizations means a stronger, more responsive network to address the well-being of all community members. Libraries can continue to be essential to their communities by proactively addressing community health matters as informed and invested public representatives.
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. This article is part of a series; see part one here and part two here.
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Case Study, WebJunction, September 2015.
Crandon Public Library Case Study, WebJunction, September 2015.
Hampton Public Library Case Study, WebJunction, September 2015.
St. Charles Parish Library Case Study, WebJunction, September 2015.
Wilkes County Public Library Case Study, WebJunction, September 2015.