Does your library put health and wellness as a priority in public programming? With the evolving role of libraries in our communities, the aspect of connecting patrons to quality health information as a goal to help them lead healthier lives is becoming more prominent in the public libraries. Frequently, conversations of health programming is confined within adult services departments or those specifically serving seniors; however, health programs are just as important in the children’s department.
I recently began a job at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine where I work with public libraries on building capacity of providing health programs, information, and services around the All of Us Research Program including topics of genetics, environment, and lifestyle. In this role I’ve become more aware of the health-focused programs and services already in place and the vast possibilities of providing these topics in a public library setting. It is important to build the health literacy of patrons, starting from an early age and with families, as a way to make them feel more empowered in their own decisions and aware of sources for quality information. Additionally, libraries continue to be the great equalizer in terms of access to information and technology in many aspects including health. Here are just a few ideas of how your library can implement and benefit from spotlighting health in the children’s department.
Cooking and nutrition classes can be a fun and interesting way to engage an entire family in an activity that they can replicate at home. Whether it is a group cooking class in a culinary center like those done at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Center or programs similar to Maitland Public Library’s Fresh for Kids which teaches healthy cooking, there are numerous ways to implement food preparation and healthy eating tips in a library setting. Additionally, many libraries already provide free meal programs for youth, especially throughout the summer. This is a great opportunity to connect children and families with resources, like cookbooks and related programs, nutrition tips, resources available in the library for healthy eating. If your library can accommodate one of these programs, there are so many ways to integrate meal programs in your library that also reinforce the importance of healthy eating.
Another way to encourage healthy lifestyles for families is to provide health themed kits that can be checked out for use. This allows for guardians to have ready-to-go activities to keep kids busy while at the same time encouraging education and healthy decisions. Some examples of potential kit themes includes dental care, a visit to the doctor, nutrition, fitness, hand-washing. There are numerous possibilities and you can construct kits that fit in your library’s budget. Some possible things to include in the kits are relevant children’s books, puppets, educational toys that aid development, premade activities or lesson plans, and a guide for online and local resources for guardians. Some of these premade kits can be designated for in-library use only or available for patrons to borrow, either way they provide an easy interaction for children’s staff to portray health information to children’s department visitors.
University of Alberta Activity Kits (academic library but has some good ideas that could be modified for young audiences)
Lastly, showing the importance of fitness and movement will not only show the benefits that physical activity has on health but also can assist in development as children grow and move. Children’s staff can integrate movement into a storytime, yoga poses as a way to engage high energy kids, or demonstrations of exercises during a program that participants can follow and do at home. It is also possible to create dedicate programs that are specifically focused on physical activity for children and families.
One of the great things that can come out of health programming for kids is the opportunity for community partnerships. Connecting with local health professionals, grocery stores, area colleges, and certified fitness instructors, and more can open the opportunity to expose patrons to these experts in a comfortable library setting, allow health institutions to reach out to communities, and build the network of your public library. The Programming Librarian blog recently featured a blog post about creating health fairs through partnerships that included several great ideas of potential community collaborations which can also be a sources for health and family based programs as well. Of course, things aren’t only confined within the library. Consider the partnerships that can be made through outreach programs conducted by your library at that organization. When I worked in a public library we formed relationships with the local children’s hospital to come in and do programming for youth and families as well as providing storytime and activities for families at local clinic waiting rooms. This not only showed the library’s dedication to health in the community but was an additional way to connect people, some who may not already visit the library, to the programs and services that are available.
Training and Funding
I also wanted to take the time to mention the training and funding available through the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM). The NNLM Middle Atlantic Region opens a call for funding proposals every year and currently has a smaller $5000 Health Information Awareness award that is accepting proposals on a rolling basis. The funds through NNLM can be used to support health programs in your public library and can support things such as supplies, staff time, facility cost, and more. Be sure to check the deadlines and opportunities for your NNLM regional library that serves your state as they vary for each region. There is also an opportunity to receive the sponsorship for the Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS). The CHIS will provide library staff with the information and knowledge to connect patrons with trusted and reliable health information and to in-turn work to improve health literacy in your community. The CHIS can be obtained through a series of in-person classes and/or online classes for the needed credit requirements. There is also the possibility to receive all the required credits for level one CHIS in a single course Stand Up for Health: Health and Wellness Services for Your Community, with the next online version beginning in July 2018. Also remember to take the opportunity to connect with your local health institutions and centers. They may be able to provide training and information for staff that will increase their knowledge of available local health resources and ignite ways to integrate health into your library programs.
I realize the ideas mentioned above only scratch the surface of some health-focused children programs currently being done in public libraries. What is your children’s department doing in terms of health? Comment below to continue the conversation!
General additional resources:
K-12 Science and Health Education Resources – through National Library of Medicine’s Specialized Information Services
Veronica Leigh Milliner is the All of Us Public Library/Community Engagement Coordinator at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine – Middle Atlantic Region, based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a member of the ALSC’s Managing Children’s Services Committee.