The Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon received a Community Health Outreach Award from the NNLM PNR to pilot the use of health information kiosks, aimed at people who are experiencing houselessness in Multnomah County. Here is a report of their project from Steph Miller, Programming Librarian — Technology and Workforce Development.
Increasing Access to Credible Health Information for Public Library Patrons Experiencing Houselessness
People who are experiencing houselessness come to public libraries to find information and to use the internet. According to local studies in Multnomah County, Oregon, 57 percent of the population experiencing houselessness also self-identify as having a “disabling condition,” defined as a mental health condition, substance abuse, developmental disability, HIV/AIDS, or another chronic health condition. Experiencing homelessness can make finding health information and communicating with healthcare providers difficult.
With the goal of facilitating access to authoritative health information resources and communication between patients and providers, Multnomah County Library installed health information iPad kiosks at two locations in and near downtown Portland, with the input and support of the Multnomah County Health Department. The library made these kiosks available to library patrons from September 2017 to April 2018. They highlighted a curated list of authoritative online health resources and the online health portal, MyChart, which is a tool through which patients can engage with healthcare providers, view lab results, and more. Project leads also trained key staff at each library, who then supported their colleagues as they helped patrons. Soon after the iPad kiosk was installed in Central Library’s Community Room, where many patrons frequently stay for long periods of time, a colleague shared this feedback and experience:
“This is a great idea! It was totally easy to help a patron today because of the iPad. He just wanted info on a certain medication but he said that he wasn’t very computer literate. I just set him up on the iPad, found the medication on MedlinePlus, and he sat down and read all of the info.”
The measurable result of these efforts during these seven months was that the webpage portal had 840 pageviews. One of the original objectives of the project was to engage influencers amongst people experiencing houselessness, however, this proved difficult, as people without homes need to prioritize finding a home, food and paying jobs and may not have time or access to support this project over a period of time.
This project helped underscore the difficulty of a dynamic public library system committing time and attention (and physical space!) to specific projects with a specific focus like this one, over an extended period of time, in the midst of the many other initiatives, priorities and changes.