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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What Role Should Libraries Play in Preventing Opioid Abuse?

The abuse of opioids (both prescription and illegal) is a major public health crisis in the US.  The Centers for Disease Control describe how 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and the number of opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999.  More overdoses are occurring at public libraries, which leads to the question: what roles should librarians have in helping to prevent and treat opioid abuse?

Public Libraries Preventing and Treating Overdoses

A coworker recently shared a fantastic article with me from American Libraries (a publication of the American Library Association) by Anne Ford, called “Saving Lives in the Stacks.”  The article describes how many public libraries are taking active steps to prevent overdoses onsite, such as:

  • Monitoring public bathroom use (to prevent overdoses in restroom stalls).
  • Training staff to administer Narcan (generic name naloxone), a medication that can reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

Public librarians often take on a wide variety of roles, ranging from teacher to program planner, but do librarians also need medical training to act as first responders?  This question raises legal and ethical issues beyond what I’m able to answer myself, but there is one role that I’m confident librarians can fill during this public health crisis: as information providers.

Information on Opioid Addiction and Treatment

Medical, academic, and public librarians are working to create a range of online information tools for both the general public and for healthcare professionals on preventing and treating opioid addiction:

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Opioid Abuse and Addiction Health Topics page on MedlinePlus.
  • Public Libraries: Some public libraries also provide LibGuides or online lists about opioid prevention and treatment resources (especially information on local resources), such as the Westport Library in Westport, CT or the Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA.

Public librarians, especially those who have to handle actual overdoses and even provide emergency medical treatment, are true heroes in this battle, and all libraries (including academic and medical) can work to provide reliable information to the public and healthcare professionals on prevention and treatment resources for opioid addiction.

The (Eventual) Digitization of Pre-1978 Copyright Records

Copyright is an incredibly important form of intellectual property in the US that protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression”, ranging from artwork and novels to computer software and architecture.  Copyright can also be an enormous pain to search, especially if you’re looking for pre-1978 copyright registrations. You very well may need to search for pre-1978 copyright registrations, since works originally copyrighted after 1922 and renewed before 1978 “have been automatically extended to last for a total term of 95 years” (learn more about copyright duration here).  Basically, a work published in 1923 could still have an active copyright today.

If you’re searching for a post-1978 copyright registration, you can check the online Copyright Catalog.  The search interface doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but you can at least search by keyword, title, claimant, organization, etc. and quickly browse through lists of results.

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Searching the online Copyright Catalog for Disney’s Moana.

You don’t have nearly as much luck if you need to search pre-1978 registrations.  Here are the options that I’m aware of:

  • Search the copyright card catalog (which contains approximately 45 million cards covering 1870 through 1977) onsite in the Copyright Public Records Reading Room at the Library of Congress. If you don’t live near Washington DC, this may be tricky.
  • Try browsing digitized versions of the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE).  The University of Pennsylvania has an excellent guide on locating digitized historic registration records. The Internet Archive has a collection of digitized Catalogs of Copyright Entries from July 1891 through December 1977.  You can keyword search within individual volumes thanks to OCR’ed text, but I couldn’t find a way to keyword search across the text of all volumes at once. (Note: The Copyright Office states “The CCE does not contain all registration updates and does not contain entries for recorded documents, including assignments, and should not be used as the only reference.”)
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Digitized Catalog of Copyright Entries on the Internet Archives.

Thankfully, the US Copyright Office is in the midst of a massive digitization project that will eventually “provide web-access to the pre-1978 Copyright registration records.”  The Project Goals page gives an update on the current status of the project:

In 2014-2015 the Copyright Office completed the digitization of pre-1978 records for preservation. The Office is now capturing pre-1978 digital content and is moving towards integrating the content and card images into the existing online record.

There’s no estimated completion date for the project, and knowing the speed at which government works, it may be a few years before we see the pre-1978 records integrated into the online Copyright Catalog.  At least the project is moving along (although it does concern me that the Project Blog link no longer works!).  Kudos to the Library of Congress and US Copyright Office for undertaking this enormous task, and hopefully the project will help librarians more easily identify copyright status of older works in the future.

Takeaways from MLA 2017

I just attended my first Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual Meeting (this year in Seattle, WA), and I came away with a lot of great new ideas, resources, and news from the health sciences information field.  I’m still trying to absorb everything I’ve seen and learned over the past few days, but here’s a quick list of some of my most interesting takeaways from the conference:

  • Open Access Biomedical Journals – The vendor hall offered me the opportunity to explore the online tools and publications available from a variety of biomedical publishers, and I checked around for any open access resources they offered.  A few open access publications and resources I came across include:
  • Data Resources – 
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New data resources portal from NNLM.
  • LibGuides to ExploreI find LibGuides very useful, so I kept an eye out during the poster sessions for any interesting projects related to LibGuides. Two fantastic LibGuides I learned about:
    • Mobile Resources for Health from the University of Florida – Learn about health-related apps, ranging from apps for healthcare professionals (clinical apps, administrative/productivity apps, E-journal and literature database apps, etc.) to apps for patient education.  The LibGuide is mobile-friendly, so learn about healthcare apps on your phone!
    • Disability Resource Guide Disability Resource Guide from University of Illinois – Learn about a variety of physical and mental disabilities, including depictions of the disability in popular literature and media, web/reference/academic resources, and common assistive technologies related to the disability.
  • New Online Learning Portal for MLA – The Medical Library Association recently launched MEDLIB-ED, an online education portal for health information professionals where users can “find, complete, track, and claim credit for educational activities.”  A free competencies self-assessment is available where users can learn about the newly revised MLA Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success, rate their skills, and use the ratings to plan professional development.
  • Product Updates from National Library of Medicine (NLM) – The NLM provided updates about a number of their free online tools, including:

These are just a few of my favorite highlights, but check Twitter for #MLAnet2017 for more updates and insights on the conference!

Visualizing Library Data in Socrata and Tableau

I decided it was time to experiment with Tableau again, and what better way to practice than using data from my local public library system, Montgomery County Public Libraries?  Locating MCPL data was almost as fun as using Tableau, since I was able to learn about and experiment with another data sharing and visualization tool called Socrata.

Socrata is a cloud-based platform that government organizations can use to host and share public data sets.  Montgomery County uses Socrata to power dataMontgomery, where I found a data set called Gov Stat MCPL Spreadsheet, listing Montgomery County Public Library performance measures.  The Socrata platform offers tools for filtering, sorting, visualizing, and exporting data sets, so I was able to filter and visualize the data in charts (like actual and projected numbers of “attendance of library programs” by fiscal year, displayed in a line graph).

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Data visualization in Socrata (actual and projected numbers of “attendance of library programs” by fiscal year).

I was also able to export the full data set to a CSV file in Socrata, which I then saved to Excel and uploaded to Tableau to practice creating a dashboard.  In my first Tableau viz I used the Story format (basically, a slide show of graphs and charts).  For my second viz, I decided to try the Dashboard format, where I can organize multiple charts on a single screen.  I created four charts but was only able to fit two of the charts comfortably on the dashboard screen (“Actual and Projected Attendance” and “Use of Library Services and Website”).  Here’s the completed viz, Service Usage and Attendance at Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL).

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My second Tableau viz.

I love experimenting with Tableau, but the best part of this exercise was learning about the data sharing and visualization capabilities of Socrata.  A quick Google search for “Socrata government data” shows that many local and state governments use Socrata to share data sets with the public (for example, Baltimore and Hawaii).  Federal government institutions also use Socrata to share data sets, like the open data catalog for the Institute of Museum and Library Services or NASA’s open data portal.  It’s a promising sign that both local and federal governments are making it a priority to openly share data with researchers and the general public, so anyone can use the data in new and creative ways.

Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.

     

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    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.

How can health science librarians get involved in big data?

The following reflection was written for the online class Big Data in Healthcare: Exploring Emerging Roles, a fantastic free course provided by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM).

Enormous data sets containing a broad variety of information produced at high velocity are transforming the healthcare field.  This “big data” is being used for clinical research, patient diagnosis and treatment, analysis of public health trends, and in many other innovative ways to move healthcare into a new era of highly personalized medicine.  Patients provide the health data, programmers and data scientists create new tools to manipulate the data, and clinicians and other healthcare professionals consult and analyze the data.  Health science librarians may wonder what roles they can play in this daunting but incredibly important new domain.  Librarians can use their specialized skills to fill three key roles in the big data field: they can act a liaisons between healthcare professionals and programmers, they can act as advocates for patients, and they can act as educators for patients and healthcare professionals.

Librarians regularly perform reference interviews and user needs assessments to determine the information and programming needs of their patrons, and these skills can help librarians become effective liaisons between healthcare professionals and programmers who create tools to manipulate big data.  In the presentation The Triple Aim at the Front Lines: Lessons from a VA Experience in using data to drive change, Dr. Nick Meo describes how in order to create more effective data tools for physicians, programmers need to know how frontline physicians are using these tools in their everyday practice.  Librarians can be the intermediaries in this situation.  After performing reference interviews, focus groups, and other forms of needs assessments with healthcare professionals, the librarian can then work with programmers to create data tools that fit the information needs and diagnostic/treatment processes of the healthcare team.

Librarians can also act as advocates for patients, by learning about patient concerns related to use of their personal health data and communicating these concerns to both the programmers and healthcare professionals.  In the article A ‘green button’ for using aggregate patient data at the point of care, Christopher Longhurst, Robert Harrington, and Nigam Shah suggest a change to HIPAA, so that it will be “acceptable for front-line clinicians to use aggregate patient data, even if identified, for the purpose of treating a similar patient under their care” (1233).  This idea may make aggregated patient data more easily accessible to clinicians, but how would patients feel about their personal health data being used in this manner?  Librarians can work with patients to gain their viewpoints on possible new uses for health data like the suggested “green button”, and patients may reveal ethical, privacy, or security concerns that programmers and healthcare professionals had not previously considered.

Finally, librarians can act as educators for both healthcare professionals and patients to demonstrate the value of utilizing big data in healthcare. Harlan Krumholz describes in the article Big data and new knowledge in medicine: the thinking, training, and tools needed for a learning health system how healthcare professionals will need to change their viewpoints about best practices for research in order to fully embrace big data.  Librarians can begin changing viewpoints by presenting healthcare professionals with concrete examples of how big data has been used to improve patient care, as well as training resources for learning more about data science.  Librarians can also promote participation for patients within big data initiatives, by explaining how the projects will benefit public health.  For instance, librarians can explain to patients and the general public how participation in the All of Us Research Program may improve personalized medicine for current and future generations.

Health science librarians don’t need advanced programming skills or a medical degree as a prerequisite to work with big data.  Librarians already possess valuable communication and training skills which will make them effective liaisons between patients, healthcare professionals, and programmers who contribute to generating, analyzing, and creating tools for big data.