4 Ways to Get Started with Health Programming at Your Library

Dec 10, 2018 | Articles

Nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. adults struggle to comprehend available health information, often because it’s presented in an unfamiliar, complicated, or overwhelming way. This lack of health literacy is concerning, but it’s also an opportunity for your library to offer an undeniably valuable service to your community.

Whether you’re just starting to think about offering impactful health programming or your library already has a robust healthy living program, new ideas can always help get the creative juices flowing. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some tips to inspire you as you plan guest speakers, community partnerships, clubs, and do-at-home activities to promote health literacy in your community.

1. Guest Speakers

Even if public speaking isn’t your staff’s forte, you can still host an enlightening speaking series at your library. Look around your community to find engaging guest speakers willing to share their interesting perspectives. Try these three ideas to get started with a guest speaker series:

  • Invite local professionals and admissions officers to participate in a healthcare-focused career day. There’s high demand for skilled, caring workers to serve tomorrow’s patients, so give the spotlight to those who have firsthand experience in these fields today. Include admissions officers from colleges and universities that offer healthcare programs as well; they can shed light on what they are looking for in applicants. Encourage all ages to attend so that it will benefit young people as well as those looking to make a career change.
  • Host a weekly question-and-answer panel, featuring experts from local health-related organizations. Be sure to include the panelists’ areas of expertise when promoting the panel, so patrons can prepare questions in advance.
  • Reach out to city councilors and other community leaders who serve in a public service capacity. Your community’s leaders are very intimately acquainted with the health issues facing their constituents, and it’s their job to be aware of the resources available to help community members overcome those issues. Give these leaders your library as a stage to provide an overview of what health resources are available to your patrons.

2. Community Partnerships

You don’t have to go about serving your community alone! There are so many nonprofits and associations in your community that are just as dedicated to making it a healthy place to live as you are. If you’re not sure about how to leverage your community partnerships to advance your health literacy goals, check out this article, 5 Essential Partners For Your Library’s Health Initiatives, or give these ideas a try:

  • Invite local health organizations to offer services or programs at your library. For example, you could invite the blood bank to bring its mobile unit to your parking lot, or ask a nutritionist to talk about healthy eating habits.
  • Work with leaders of local nonprofits on themed displays for community offices. For instance, during the American Library Association’s GLBT Book Month in June, lend out books that spotlight the lives and experiences of those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community to local doctors’ offices. Patients can spend their time in the waiting room expanding their understanding of experiences that may be different from theirs instead of reading old celebrity news!
  • Dedicate in-branch space to driving awareness of local health-focused organizations. For example, during National Recovery Month in September, set up an in-branch display that features books about mental and substance abuse disorders, memoirs about people who have have been affected by these disorders, and brochures promoting local addiction recovery centers and therapy providers.

3. Clubs, Discussions, and Classes

In addition to offering resources that can be checked out, give your patrons opportunities to attend programs to learn more about healthcare topics. These ideas can help you get started:

  • Take the confusion out of healthcare benefits like Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Medicare, and Medicaid by getting the experts involved. Proactively prepare for benefit enrollment season by hosting tax specialists or human resources specialists who can share overview information about the health-related benefits that community members may expect from their employers. While community members will find the most detailed information at their places of work, some may hesitate to ask “dumb” questions on the job. Create a safe space for these nervous community members at your library.
  • Host a “growing families” club that gives expectant parents a chance to connect with others in similar positions. Expectant parents — especially those who are having their first child — are always looking for ways to crowdsource information about what to expect from childbirth and parenting. Offer your library as a community hub for new and experienced parents to connect and chat.
  • Invite the owners of small health-focused businesses to lead a “Small Business 101” for your patrons. Personal trainers, nutritionists, massage therapists, and other health professionals have a wealth of firsthand knowledge to share with those who are interested in going down a similar career path. Invite these healthcare workers to share how they got their businesses up and running. You might even have a hand in developing a few mentor-mentee connections as well!

4. Do-at-Home Activities

Extend health literacy beyond your doors with these do-at-home activity ideas:

  • Host a health-related community scavenger hunt. Have community members collect stickers or check marks from local healthcare professionals when they complete activities that promote well-being. For instance, have pharmacists check off when they speak to a community member, have a grocery store worker check off when shoppers buy fruit or veggies, or have parents check off when their kids floss every day for at least one week.
  • Include activities in your summer (or anytime) reading program that invite community members to read health-focused memoirs. If you use a tool like Wandoo Reader, use “Challenges” to inspire readers to track books read and share their thoughts on the topics covered in online reviews.
  • Extend the value of your guest speaker series with webinars. Not everyone can make it to your physical branch, but everyone can benefit from gaining new health literacy skills. Invite community members to participate in your programs from the comfort of their homes by offering on-demand recordings of your events.

Looking for more inspiration about making a difference with health programming? There’s more where these ideas came from! Download Create Health Programming that Makes a Difference, Demco Software’s guide to planning a health programming series.

Kayla Fargo

As Demco Software's Marketing Director, Kayla champions our efforts to educate public libraries on the need for a robust community engagement strategy. She works alongside our other teams to ensure that Demco Software's solutions effectively complement and amplify libraries' community engagement efforts.