A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Health and Wellness at the Library

by on April 12, 2018

If you were going to build a new public library from the ground up, what would it look like? This is the question the city of Santa Clarita, California asked itself in 2014 when it conducted a community needs assessment to decide what to include in its latest branch: The Saugus Library Center.

More than 1,500 residents filled out surveys and 300 participated in community meetings. What they found may surprise you. In addition to wanting things like “comfortable seating, a children’s library, a café, a quiet study area, more books, free Wi-Fi, [and] a family events center,” the community also asked for “a place for fitness and exercise.”[1] Indeed, 47.2 percent of survey respondents said they wanted to see “Exercise/Fitness classes” in the new Saugus Library Center, making it the fourth most popular response, behind “Free Wi-Fi,” “Books,” and “Family Events.”[2]

In fact, this trend has been growing now for some time.  One of the newest branches of the San Antonio (Texas) Public Library is co-located within a YMCA fitness center.[3] Similarly, the newest branch of the Calgary Public Library in Alberta, Canada, is also located within a YMCA recreation facility. Mark Asberg, director of Calgary’s service delivery said, “We want to be in spaces where our resources are as available as possible to as many people as possible.”[4]

Some libraries take this trend even further. The London (Canada) Public Library is working intensively with its YMCA to develop a new Southwest Community Centre, scheduled to open in Fall 2018. The new shared facility is being described as a “one-stop-shop for learning, playing, and healthy living: Imagine a place where everyone in a community comes together to learn, play, have fun, and be healthy.”[5]

Meanwhile, in Singapore in Southeast Asia, a new type of public library opened on February 4. Called “Heartbeat@Bedok,” the facility brings together a “sports centre, public library, community club, polyclinic and senior care centre under one roof.” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that bringing these entities together in one facility will enable the hub to becomea “national innovation laboratory” to pilot new services, which could include telemedicine and the pairing of workout data with health statistics.[6]

Back in Santa Clarita, California, the city is committed to meeting community needs by creating a space for exercise and fitness in its newest library branch, which scheduled to open to the public in 2020. The concept for the new library is that it will be a:

  • “Multi-generational family destination and gathering place for all Santa Clarita residents
  • Vibrant community hub with unique indoor and outdoor spaces
  • A place where learning, exploration, imagination and play can happen simultaneously in the same area.”[7]

Maybe you can’t build a new library, but you can think about what you can do to positively impact health and wellness in your community. The Public Library Association currently has an ongoing initiative focused on how public libraries in the U.S. promote healthy communities. Follow this initiative, and get involved, to make a difference in your community.[8]


[1] Andrew Clark, “City plans for massive annexation, Saugus library and arts center.” The Signal: Santa Clarita Valley. February 12, 2018. https://signalscv.com/2018/02/city-plans-massive-annexation-saugus-library-arts-center/.

[2] City of Santa Clarita. Saugus Library Center Needs Assessment Survey – April 2015. http://www.santaclaritalibrary.com/files/2014/10/SLC-Survey-Results-April-2015.pdf.

[3] RJ Marques. “New SA library with free Wifi, YMCA to open Friday on far West Side.” KSAT-12. November 4, 2016. https://www.ksat.com/sa-live/new-library-ymca-to-open-friday-on-far-west-side.

[4] Calgary Public Library. “Calgary’s First Express Library Opens in New YMCA.” January 9, 2018. https://calgarylibrary.ca/news/calgarys-first-express-library-opens-in-new-ymca/.

[5] Janis Wallace. “Residents in southwest London are excited about a new one-stop-shop for learning, playing, and healthy living.” TheLondoner.ca. February 1, 2018. http://www.thelondoner.ca/2018/02/01/residents-in-southwest-london-are-excited-about-a-new-one-stop-shop-for-learning-playing-and-healthy-living.  

[6] Seow Bei Yi. “Community facilities under one roof at new Bedok lifestyle hub.” The Straits Times. February 4, 2018. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/community-facilities-under-one-roof-at-new-bedok-lifestyle-hub.

[7] City of Santa Clarita. “Saugus Library Center.” http://www.santaclaritalibrary.com/about/saugus-library-center/.

[8] Public Library Association. “Promoting Healthy Communities: A Health Information Initiative.” http://www.ala.org/pla/initiatives/healthliteracy.

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