Two libraries in the Salt Lake City area hired library staff with special connections to diverse communities as part of a project funded this year by the NNLM MidContinental Region.
These “community wellness liaisons,” aided members of their communities in accessing library services and programs, with a special emphasis on health-related information. They were hired to work for nearly a year at the main branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library and at the West Valley branch of the Salt Lake County Library.
Five individuals were selected with the input of the Community Faces of Utah (CFU) collaborative. CFU members include Calvary Baptist Church representing African Americans in Salt Lake City, the National Tongan American Society representing Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians, the Hispanic Health Care Task Force representing Spanish-speaking populations, the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake representing indigenous Americans, and Best of Africa representing African refugees and immigrants. CFU also includes the Community Collaboration and Engagement Team at the University of Utah’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCET) which coordinated the project, and the Utah Department of Health.
Each liaison was a member one of the CFU communities. They worked for 20 hours a week for one of the two libraries, splitting their time between the library and community outreach. One liaison also spent part of their time at the Glendale branch of the City Library. In addition to working with library staff, the liaisons coordinated closely with leaders from their respective CFU organizations.
All liaisons received training in health-information skills from NNLM and completed level 1 of the Consumer Health Information Specialist training.
The liaisons worked with their libraries to conduct public programs and participated in virtual community outreach activities after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the libraries. Examples of programs and activities included a Kwanzaa celebration, discussions on trauma and mental wellness, in-library displays on health, and library resource lists on health topics of highest interest to each community.
They and the CFU community leaders also conducted trainings for staff on such topics as diversity, inclusion and allyship. This helped to create a two-way conversation between communities and library.
The project initially arose from a discussion at a CFU meeting in which the community leaders discussed their perceptions that individuals from diverse communities did not feel welcome in local libraries, in part because of the lack of diversity among library staff. As a result, many individuals from diverse communities around the Salt Lake Valley did not use their local libraries and were unaware of library services and programs that could meet their needs.
Based on this discussion, CFU designed a research study that included community engagement sessions, similar to focus groups, which were conducted with each of the CFU communities. Each CFU community leader co-facilitated the session in their community along with a CCET staff member.
The participants in the engagement sessions suggested ideas for addressing the problem, such as having library staff from similar backgrounds as community members and making health information more accessible by bringing library resources and programs directly into the communities. The discussions involving community group members, library leaders and the researchers led to the pilot project that hired the CWLs.
Project organizers shared the results from the engagement sessions with a sixth group consisting of city and county librarians and library administrators. In a culminating workshop, CFU community leaders and representatives from the two library systems reviewed the research findings and developed a plan for the pilot project.
Funding for the project came from the NNLM All of Us Community Engagement Network, which helps public libraries in supporting the health information needs of their users by providing training to library staff, funding and other resources to support health programming and activities, and connections to medical libraries and other NNLM members in their area.
The CEN is part of the All of Us Research Program, which has a mission to accelerate health research and medical breakthroughs, enabling individualized prevention, treatment and care for all of us. The program aims to build one of the largest, most diverse datasets of its kind for health research, with one million or more volunteers nationwide who sill sign up to share their information over time.