Health Programming at Public Libraries: What Works?

When you think of programming at public libraries, probably story time for children, book clubs, and maybe a workshop for job hunting comes to mind.  Did you know libraries also often offer programs to improve public health?  OCLC’s WebJunction offers a great infographic that sums up why public libraries “are in a unique position to bring together the people, programs, and partners necessary to make health information and services accessible to everyone.”  Basically, all people have equal access to the library,  and many people use library resources (books, internet, reference staff) to identify reliable health information.  Public libraries often use local community partners from the health and wellness field to:

  • Offer fitness classes to patrons.
  • Bring in healthcare providers to offer limited health screening services.
  • Use screenings to offer referrals to local health and social service agencies.
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Section of “Library Heroes Make Health Happen” infographic.

Public librarians aren’t providing medical advice or services themselves (and many public libraries have disclaimers attesting to this), but they are helping patrons locate reliable resources for finding local health services and insurance options.

Examples of Health Programming at Libraries

What types of health programming are most successful at public libraries? I first took a quick look at the health programs available through Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL, my local library system), and popular classes seem to include Bone Builders (a bone building and fall prevention program for older adults), meditation classes (in Spanish and English), Tai Chi classes, and yoga classes.  Overall, fitness classes seem to be the most prevalent health programming in my local library system, especially low impact fitness activities accessible to older adults.

Another place I checked for examples of programming was Urban Library Council’s 2016 Innovation awards for Health, Safety and Sustainability.  The 2016 Top Innovator award went to Biblio Bistro program in San Francisco, “a mobile, librarian-staffed cooking cart, [offering] demonstrations and classes to makes the connection between self-prepared meals and wellness.”  2016 Honorable Mentions include programs like:

These programs use creative partnerships with local organizations to plan health classes and events which meet the specific needs of the local library patrons.  Now when visiting your public library, you can check out a few books AND attend a yoga class, or learn how to cook!

Resources for Health Programming at Public Libraries

Here are a few useful resources for planning consumer health programming at local libraries, free classes for librarians to learn about providing health programs, and online tools to learn about local community health issues:

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