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Supporting Public Library Health Information Programs and Training

One of the major charges for the NN/LM MCR is to work toward improving access to and sharing of biomedical information resources throughout the region. We believe working with and through public libraries is one of the major ways to reach out to the residents of our states. Public libraries interact with individuals and groups in ways that hospital and academic libraries cannot.

Our coordinators have formed relationships with many of the public libraries in our states, and also with our state libraries in order to offer educational programming and opportunities for partnership to achieve our mission. We also offer region-wide programming opportunities with Spotlight! on NLM Resources. For the past few years, we have noticed that participation by public librarians has decreased. In order to increase public librarians’ attendance at our training opportunities, we decided to work through our six state libraries to find out what the interests and needs are for health information trainings.

We developed a questionnaire asking for information about the perceived need for trainings, the types of trainings preferred, and the desired delivery methods for those trainings. Each coordinator worked with their respective state library to distribute the questionnaire to public libraries during February 2013. Overall, 182 responses were collected and analyzed.

Questions were arranged in three areas: 1) Perception of staff knowledge about and access to health information and the public’s use of the library for health information. 2) Interest in training on health resources,  training formats preferred and the kinds of skills deemed important. 3) Librarians’ perception of what health topics their patrons thought were important.

  • 72% responded that members of the community look to the public library for health information. (“Do you get reference questions about health topics?” “Do you maintain a health information collection in your library?”)
  • More than 84% somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with this statement: “Our staff has access to the health information resources we need to answer the majority of our patrons’ questions.”
  • 58% somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that their staff has adequate knowledge of health information resources to comfortably answer the majority of health questions they receive.

It appeared that although the respondents thought access to health information was adequate, there was a noticeably weaker positive response that their knowledge of health information resources is adequate.

The overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that “Yes” they, or their staff would be interested in having training on health information, if it were free and offered in a convenient venue. Most of the respondents (54%) indicated that they would participate in archived or live online training sessions. Other responses favored self-guided training modules (19%), in-person training (19%), and training at conferences (11%.)

Responses to queries about skills training, showed that they were interested in learning how to develop a consumer health collection or learning more on conducting a health reference interview. Responses also showed strong interest in training on health resources for different groups.

Respondents identified health topics important to their patrons: Diabetes (25%); Cancer (24%); Heart Disease (20%); Obesity (13%); and Asthma (10%). Open-ended responses captured other topics.Those mentioned  most frequently were ADHD, Alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, Autism Spectrum, Mental Health, and Nutrition/Healthy Living.

In conclusion, public libraries have good access to  health information resources, and the knowledge to use them. However, they continue to be interested in additional training. A large majority (more than 70%) indicated they prefer online training as opposed to various forms of in-person trainings. We will continue to offer online trainings and presentations directed at public library staff. Finally, the feedback reaffirmed our belief that public librarians and libraries are an important link in the provision of and access to health information for community members.

-Barbara Jones, Missouri/Library Advocacy Coordinator
-Jim Honour, Wyoming/Member Services Coordinator

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