6 Steps to Playing a More Active Role in Your Community’s Health

Jun 27, 2019 | Articles

Pew Research reports that 80% of internet users — that’s over 90 million Americans — have searched for health-related information online, but only 1 in 10 American adults have the skills they need to use the information they find. Libraries are in a prime position to address this lack of health literacy, and those with a solid strategy for promoting community health will make the greatest impact. These six steps will help your library develop its own plan for undertaking this important work.

Step 1: Define “Health”

When you hear the word “health,” do you automatically think about hospitals, nurses, and physicians? You’ll have the greatest reach if you expand your definition beyond physical health to include mental health, emotional health, and even financial health. When you’re developing your health programming, start by determining what types of health resources you think your community members need the most and keep these in mind as you move through the planning process.

Step 2: Set SMART Goals

As with any initiative, you’ll need SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). This way, you’ll quickly see if your health programming is resonating with your audience, or if you need to make changes to see more return on the resources that you’re investing.

The following are examples of goals you might set:

  • To add a certain number of new health-related events to your library’s schedule by a specific date
  • To incorporate health resources into a number of your existing programs by a specific date
  • To dedicate a number of exhibits in your branch to health-related resources each quarter for the next year
  • To establish partnerships with a number of community health organizations by a specific date. (Make sure that you and all of your stakeholders agree on what these partnerships look like so that they’re measurable. For instance, you might consider that a partnership has been officially established once an organization commits to participating in at least two events or donating prizes for at least one of your events.)

Step 3: Find Partners

Providing health information to your community can be overwhelming, considering everything you and your staff are already undertaking. The good news is that you’re not alone in being tasked with this important work. Every community, no matter if it’s rural, suburban, urban, or somewhere in between, has at least a couple of organizations dedicated to the well-being of its members. By establishing partnerships with these organizations, you’ll have a better understanding of the unique health issues facing those you serve. You’ll also have a direct connection to those who would benefit most from your programming. These organizations can help promote your new programs to the community members who already use their services.

Consider partnering with the following:

  • Organizations that promote physical health
    • Government organizations, such as Departments of Public Health
    • Nonprofits, such as the American Heart Association or Red Cross
    • Traditional physical health care providers, like dentists and doctors
    • Less traditional professionals who provide services that focus on health and well-being (e.g., leaders of local exercise groups like the November Project, acupuncturists, massage therapists, etc.)
  • Providers and organizations that focus on mental health, such as therapists and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • Businesses dedicated to financial health, such as banks and credit unions
  • People dedicated to spiritual health, such as yogis and reiki masters

Before you meet with potential partners, come up with a list of questions to guide the discussion about how a mutually beneficial relationship could work with them. Questions could include the following:

  • What health-promoting events or programs do you currently have planned? How can the library support them?
  • Which, if any, of the library’s current programs are useful to the community that you serve?
  • Are you able to donate any prizes (e.g., a free health screening, a free massage session, a branded stress ball, etc.) for the library’s upcoming events and programs?
  • What new library resources and events do you think would be most valuable to offer community members?
  • Do you have any health-related contacts? Whom do you suggest the library contact for more insight into planning a useful health program?

Step 4: Brainstorm Programming

You’ve agreed on health definitions and program goals with your colleagues. You’ve begun talking with local organizations to see how you can combine forces for the greatest impact. Now, it’s time for the fun part: brainstorming activities and events that you’ll offer to your health-minded patrons. The more brains you can invite to this part the better, since different perspectives will lead to the most creative ideas.

During this step, get as many staff members involved as you can, whether that means calling a meeting before your branch opens or setting up a suggestion box where library workers can share their ideas throughout the day by submitting them on note cards. If you have an advisory board of patrons you’ve worked with on other programs, ask for their input as well. You can also set up a suggestion box for all patrons to contribute health topics they would like to learn about.

Let these ideas about new, health-focused programs help get your creative juices flowing:

  • Start a virtual cookbook club. Feature copies of a healthy cookbook in a prominent display in your branch each month. Invite patrons to check out a copy, make a dish from it, and post photos of their culinary masterpiece with your library’s hashtag to be entered to win a prize.
  • Host a health fair. Many community members are unaware of the full range of services that are available to them. Invite nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and representatives from organizations like Planned Parenthood; local cycling, running, and parks and recreation groups; and your local urgent care facilities to set up tables in one of your meeting rooms. Don’t forget your financial, mental, and spiritual health partners as well! Exhibitors can share handouts about what they have to offer or even provide on-site medical services such as flu shots or massages.
  • Offer your library’s physical spaces to health-focused nonprofits. Many nonprofits run on a tight budget, so they would benefit from a free, spacious area to host volunteer training and board meetings.
  • Host a virtual webinar panel of international or national health care representatives. Organizations like Direct Relief, Partners in Health, and Doctors Without Borders are always looking for support to help fund their work. Broadcast the webinar on a screen in the library and also provide a link to log in remotely so as many patrons as possible can learn how to make a difference beyond their own community.

Once you start looking for them, you’ll also find opportunities to add health tie-ins to your current programs as well. Consider these ideas for making health a component of what you already have planned for the year:

  • Add a health literacy exercise to your computer skills classes. When you show attendees how to search for information online, use a health-focused resource as an example. Beyond just empowering them by showing how easy it is to find health information on the web, explain how to determine if sources are credible so they’re better prepared to evaluate information once they leave your class as well.
  • Add a health-focused book to your book club’s reading list and then invite a guest moderator to lead the discussion about the book. There are many mental health-focused memoirs that are both engaging and insightful about how people cope with mental illnesses. If you invite a representative from NAMI to help with the discussion, it may be just what some of your community members need to realize that there’s support available to help them overcome their own struggles.
  • Invite representatives from health-focused nonprofits to your volunteer fair. Local hospitals are always looking for volunteers, as are nursing homes. Invite them to spend time at your library sharing information about these opportunities with your patrons.
  • Feature your online resources, like BrainHQ™, on the mobile technology that you show off during a technology petting zoo. Not only will your community members get a chance to learn how to use a tablet or smartphone, but they’ll also learn how BrainHQ can sharpen their cognitive abilities with scientifically proven brain training exercises.

Step 5: Develop Your Marketing Plan

Once you’ve got your program planned, the next step is reaching out to community members to make sure they are aware of it and attend. Here are a few ways to spread the word:

  • Send press releases to local radio stations, public access television stations, and newspapers. Include all of the pertinent details (i.e., times, dates, benefits of attending) so that they have what they need to share details about your program.
  • Include mention of your new program in your email newsletter. Also provide your partners with a digital promotional packet that includes copy, images, and registration information so they can promote your events and programs in their own email newsletters as well.
  • Hand out promotional flyers at your checkout desk, and tuck them in books that are on hold.
  • Post teasers about the fun activities that you have planned in short videos on your social media accounts.
  • Post flyers at local community centers, nursing homes, coffee shops, and anywhere else community members gather. You could also hand out the same flyers at community events like parades and farmers markets.

Step 6: Evaluate How It Went

As with all programs, it’s a good idea to survey your participants to determine what’s working and what could be better. Since your health programming is such an important initiative, also consider starting an advisory group specifically for feedback on this programming. Invite local health care leaders, as well as patrons from diverse backgrounds, to meet at your library once a month to discuss your current and future plans. By giving these community members a more active role in planning your library’s events, they’ll take pride in what they’ve helped you create and will be more likely to promote the events to their own friends and families as well.

Looking for additional ideas? You’ll find over 20 more health-related program ideas in our guide, Create a Health Programming Series that Makes a Difference. You will also find tips on how to plan an impactful program as well as suggestions for activities that your patrons will find entertaining, enlightening, and engaging.

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.