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Advancing Equity in Black Birthing Health: Leveraging NNLM Resources and Public Library Partnerships

by Veronica Milliner, Engagement Specialist, Network of the National Library of Medicine All of Us Program Center (NAPC) located at the University of Iowa, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences and Bennie Finch, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Region 7 located at Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School on April 9, 2024

The NNLM actively supports public libraries in addressing health disparities and disseminating maternal health information to their communities. For the third year in a row, NNLM will host events in support of Black Maternal Health Week. In this post, we will share events and health information resources for information professionals and provide examples of how libraries support health information access and build awareness of the health inequities faced by Black birthing people.

What is Black Maternal Health Week?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hundreds of women in the United States die each year during pregnancy or within the first year after delivery. While eighty percent of these deaths are deemed preventable, the numbers continue to rise, and Black women are the most impacted. In fact, Black women are three times as likely to die during pregnancy or from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.

The NNLM actively supports public libraries in addressing health disparities and increasing access to maternal health information in their communities. This effort includes the Black Maternal Health Toolkit, a series of informative webinars available on the NNLM YouTube page, and the NNLM Reading Club focused on Black Maternal Health. Additionally, the NNLM collaborates with the All of Us Research Program, emphasizing the importance of research contributions to improve maternal health outcomes.

Founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance,  Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) is a week-long campaign held each year, April 11-17,​ “to build awareness, activism, and community-building​ to amplify ​the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black Mamas and birthing people.” BMHW has now become a national health observance.

In support of BMHW 2024, NNLM is hosting two live events in April.

Visit Black Maternal Health Week | NNLM to learn more.

Also, visit the Black Maternal Health Toolkit | NNLM for additional resources and health information.

How Libraries Support Health Equity

Through programming, community partnerships, collection displays, and more – libraries are responding to their communities’ needs for Black maternal health information. Here are just a few examples:

  • Brooklyn Public Library currently has an NNLM All of Us Program Partnership Award, which allows them to collaborate with their local All of Us Research Program NYC partner at Weill Cornell. Leveraging the library’s robust history of advocating for Black maternal health, they’ve used the partnership to secure speakers for maternal health presentations as well as a panel discussion and resource fair on maternal mental health. Their project demonstrates the library’s proactive approach to tackling crucial health issues and capitalizing on community connections. NNLM funding opens at various times throughout the year, you can view available opportunities on our funding page.
  • Other examples of public libraries connecting patrons to Black maternal health information include online book lists at Boston Public Library, Cincinnati Public Library’s Black Maternity Matters program series, and resource pages and programming by Los Angeles Public Library.
  • Other non-public libraries also have demonstrated a commitment to providing access to relevant health information through NNLM-funded collection development, like the University of Portland and their collection equity award, which provided collection resources on this topic. Additionally, the University of Buffalo used its NNLM All of Us Community Award to conduct various activities on Black Maternal Health, including a community symposium and movie screening in collaboration with their local public library, while sharing information about the All of Us Research Program.
  • “Laboring with Hope” to Improve Maternal Health Disparities – In August 2022, the PNC-MLA Diversity and Health Equity Speaker series hosted Dr. Nakeitra L. Burse, who presented the webinar “Storytelling as a Public Health Strategy to Address Inequities in Maternal Health Outcomes.” Dr. Burse is the owner and CEO of Six Dimensions which produced the film Laboring with Hope, a 30-minute documentary that combines personal stories and expert perspectives to provide a call to action to implement, support, and uplift strategies to improve maternal health and birth outcomes.
    • NNLM Region 5 offered access to Laboring with Hope in response to interest expressed by attendees during Dr. Burse’s well-received webinar. Region 5 members were also offered the opportunity to host free viewings of the documentary in their communities, sharing successful programs and discussions. Since January 2023, NNLM members have actively participated in the program, incorporating the film into nursing courses, organizing library viewings, and collaborating with various departments during Black Maternal Health Week.

NNLM Resources for Black Birthing Health

The NNLM actively assists public libraries in tackling health inequality by equipping them with maternal health information resources for their patrons. Here are just a few examples of NNLM resources:

  • You can find a series of past webinars from NNLM on the topic of maternal health by searching the NNLM YouTube page. Here you’ll be able to view previous classes and webinars, including those from last year’s Black Maternal Health Week events.
  • The NNLM Reading Club compiles a list of “ready-to-use” reading club materials based on a different health topic each month. Last year’s theme for April was Black Maternal Health, and resources are still available for continued public use.
  • The NNLM’s partnership with the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program collaborates with public libraries to raise awareness about the importance of diversity in biomedical research as a way to better understand health, especially in communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in medical research. The National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program aims to reflect the rich diversity of our country and help us learn more about how genes, health habits, and the environment intersect and affect our health. Researchers are already using All of Us Research Program data to better understand health inequalities and the reproductive health of Black birthing people.
  • The Birthing Persons Toolkit was created in NNLM Region 5 to support libraries in providing health information to those who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant. The toolkit includes messages, hashtags, graphics, and handouts to support library staff with health information for birthing persons. These carefully selected resources are to help patrons make informed choices about pregnancy care. Learn more about the toolkit in this blog post.

Additional Resources


2024 Black Maternal Health Week – Black Mamas Matter Alliance

Working Together to Reduce Black Maternal Mortality | Health Equity Features | CDC

Pregnancy-Related Deaths: Data from Maternal Mortality Review Committees in 36 US States, 2017–2019 | CDC

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