Written for Midwest Matters by Sherri McConnell
What happens when a roomful of librarians get together to talk, eat and breathe health and wellness for a day? You get enthusiastic conversation, lots of ideas and determination to create programming at their home libraries. On March 20 over 80 librarians from all over the country got together at a Public Library Association pre-conference workshop to learn about health information from knowledgeable NNLM staff and to learn from each other. Participating in the workshop and doing a little homework earned you the Consumer Health Information Specialist certification from the Medical Library Association. At my table sat librarians from Kansas, Vermont, and Pennsylvania (and I’m a Michigander), and all day long we shared our program successes and challenges. Librarians are fascinating people, and I heard from two of them during the introductions: a librarian preparing to ride her horse across Michigan and another who built a Hobbit-themed wine cellar in her basement with her sisters.
In the next 7 hours we covered large topics like the definition of health literacy and challenges to library staff in providing health information in a public setting; finding and accessing sources of health information; creating programming and finding community partners; how to measure program efforts with PLA’s Project Outcome; and learning about NNLM’s funding opportunities for public libraries. The fun was in the details. Here are some gems:
Health Literacy: If you’re a public librarian you have probably experienced the difficulty of a health reference interview, and we talked about what that means for providing accurate, trustworthy information. Answers to health questions need to be tailored to who’s doing the asking and why. The question may be complicated but the answer needs to be uncomplicated. Appearance is not a clear indication of health literacy level, and many people don’t want to admit that they don’t understand the information given to them.
Health Reference: Our number one challenge is that patrons think we know everything, but the great news is that there are so many reliable resources thanks to the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus. More great resources can be found here on the NNLM website. And remember when judging health resources use these guidelines to measure trustworthiness, the CRAAP test or the Trust It or Trash It test.
Free Professional Development and Stuff: Librarians are always looking for professional development opportunities and NNLM offers free, online classes on consumer health. Check out the schedule here. Libraries can also order free materials on topics like aging, mental health, exercise and heart health here. Did you know there is a MedlinePlus magazine that your library can receive for free? If you are a fan of MedlinePlus and you would like to share that enthusiasm with your patrons, you can find subscription information here.
Popular vs. Science-Based Selection: Selectors of the 600s and beyond know this struggle very well, balancing science-based titles with patron demand for popular titles from the likes of Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola. The discussion was lively but the issue went unresolved. As always we must balance professional judgment with meeting the demands of our communities.
Sharing experiences: The best part of the day. Boards of Post-It Notes displayed program successes and challenges, and we gathered in groups to share experiences. There were too many ideas to write down but this photo gives you an idea of the wealth. https://bit.ly/2GJdKgQ If you are looking for more ways to share your program ideas, you can do that on the Programming Librarian. If you want to discuss health in libraries, this Facebook page is a good place to start, Libraries are Champions of Healthy Communities. Just ask for permission to join.