Core Competencies for Providing Consumer Health Information Services
Public and consumer health librarians are essential for linking patrons from all walks of life to quality health information in appropriate formats. The following eight core competencies will help librarians and library staff provide outstanding consumer health services and extend the role of the library with regard to building healthy communities.
Know the Community
Know the characteristics of the community served by the library, including demographics, special populations, health status indicators, and needs of community members. Understand that beliefs, customs, and values of different cultures can influence thoughts and actions around health, illness, and health care decisions. Be respectful and responsive to all user groups. Practice cultural humility through self-reflection and awareness that one’s own beliefs and experiences can impact interactions with others; be open to learning about the experiences and cultural identity of others as a life-long endeavor.
Know the Health Consumer
Understand the principles and practices related to providing appropriate, relevant information services to meet the needs of different types of users, including patients, caregivers, educators, students, and health practitioners. Understand and respond to the issues and barriers faced by health information seekers.
Knowledge of Subject Matter and Resources
Solid knowledge of specific resources for general and specialized health topics is essential, as well as resources for specific population groups or for users with special needs. Know the library’s print collection, both circulating and reference materials. Be well-versed in library subscription databases, including the coverage of materials, currency, and appropriateness for specific requests. Have knowledge of quality web-based resources, and strive to stay current as resources change or are replaced with new resources.
Evaluation of Health Information
Understand the principles of evaluating consumer health information for quality. Apply quality criteria when selecting items for the print or electronic collection. Have the ability to critically examine and filter materials from web-based and other resources when choosing an appropriate resource for a particular patron. Provide users with evaluation criteria and guidance for finding appropriate health materials.
Communication, Reference, and Instruction
Know and apply effective communication techniques; understand and apply the additional components of health reference interviewing. Be able to recognize and take advantage of teachable moments with patrons. Effectively teach users how to use search engines, library catalogs and subscription databases, reference materials, and online resources.
Literacy and Health Literacy
Understand the related issues of literacy and health literacy and the principles and practices of serving users with low literacy skills or low health literacy, including knowledge of understandable and appropriate print, online, and multimedia health materials. Be able to gauge the readability of a resources, and be aware of signs of low literacy in patrons. Recognize that low health literacy can affect anyone regardless of education or socioeconomic levels.
Technology and Health
Understand current technology used by patrons within and outside of the library. Have proficiency assisting users with library computers, the library catalog, subscription-based health information resources, Internet search, and web-based health resources. Be aware of emerging technology trends in health-related social networking, mobile access, electronic health records, and personal health records.
Ethical and Legal Issues
Understand ethical issues surrounding the provision of medical information, including the use of discretion and the patron’s need and right to privacy. Know and apply the library’s policies regarding the use of disclaimers when providing medical information. Provide recommendations for health information resources only; never provide medical advice. Understand the limitations of the librarian’s role, and always recommend that the user discusses the information received with a health professional.
From Finding Health and Wellness @ the Library: A Consumer Health Toolkit for Library Staff, 2nd Edition. Competencies updated March 2018.