Melanie Newell is a C4CH (Catalyst for Community Health) Grantee at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and is a service associate in Lincoln City Libraries, in Lincoln, NE.
C4CH (Catalysts for Community Health) is an Institute of Museum and Library Services Community Catalyst Project Grant initiative led by Dr. Jenny Bossaller and Dr. Denice Adkins of the University of Missouri’s iSchool, and Deborah Ward and Christine Pryor of MU Libraries and supported by an advisory board and one amazing graduate assistant. C4CH endeavors to use the talents of emerging LAM professionals to “spark” change in communities by bringing together existing ideas, energies, pieces and structures that when combined strengthen their impacts on communities. The support that we have is unmatched and allows us to make significant strides in our communities. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to brag about it here!
Now that I am in my fourth semester of this unique program, I can’t imagine my library education without this special training and emphasis on community health, and yet I know that few of my peers are going to have the perspective of community health in their library career paths. This initiative makes me feel like a seed that is being planted in my community. Our specialized training has included emphasis on evaluating our communities for areas of high need in relation to health, health literacy, and access to health and healthcare. We have learned how to use consumer health resources to help with health-related reference questions in libraries, how medical libraries are supporting public libraries and health initiatives across the country, and how public libraries can tap into these resources. The skills I’ve obtained are not widespread in the public libraries I’ve been affiliated with so far, and I can be a new proponent for this type of library service. I am walking a not well-trodden path, which comes with some level of challenge and uncertainty, but I’ve been able to do it with the network of support that has been set up by the grant. In orienting us toward community health, all our training is moving through the community health filter, resulting in outcomes that are affecting our local libraries and communities. Our projects and papers directly serve our local communities.
For me, it was when in our reference course, and learning about “information encountering” and serendipitous learning that happens in libraries that I began my journey into the project I’m doing for C4CH. I realized that the serendipitous encountering of information can have a major influence on people’s knowledge and lives. What if people in libraries encountered more health information unexpectedly? What if they were at the library to get a bus schedule, but picked up a pamphlet on infant choking that saves the life of a baby? Or they see information on quitting smoking and learn about the local Quitline, enhancing their chances of success . I immediately knew I wanted to get more printed health information into people’s hands through libraries. When I started doing more research, I realized I was on the right track, as health information produced by libraries is much more likely to be at the right literacy level and in more languages than health information coming from doctors’ offices. From there, as a component of my C4CH education experience, I was connected to my mentor, Margie Sheppard, of the NNLM MCR. We came up with the idea of creating a tool-kit for public libraries to access and print health information for their patrons. I am working to localize this tool-kit to include local and community resources unique to the locale of Nebraska libraries and Nebraska communities.
Nebraskans tend to like things that are by and for other Nebraskans. That’s our culture around here; we take real pride in our independent achievements. That is why the tool-kit taps into local health departments, organizations and local medical librarians. I also know that one barrier to offering health programs and resources in libraries is the time it takes for library staff to learn these skills. That is why the tool-kit I’m creating is designed to be catchy, quick, attractive and accessible. It is intended to consolidate information in such a way that it doesn’t waste any of the precious time of the busy librarians in my state. It is my hope that by localizing information and resources on how to provide printed health materials in libraries and framing it in a way that is by and for Nebraskans, it will expand the landscape of printed health materials and encourage librarians to take new stock in health promotion in the public libraries right here in my locale, the great state of Nebraska.