Why Libraries Matter: Healthy Living

What do public libraries do? 

There are countless examples of innovative library programs and services that help to support local communities while addressing specific needs. Many libraries expand far beyond what many people think of as traditional library services and find new ways to give people access to information and resources. Each month, this article will highlight some of the many ways in which public libraries are essential to maintaining their communities’ well-being while also providing for the greater good. 

Public health has been a focus for many people and organizations over the past few years, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. Public libraries around the country encourage healthy living by giving people the knowledge and tools they need to do so, including meals, exercise classes, mental health awareness and resources, and more. The following are just a few examples of public libraries’ health initiatives that are improving the health of individuals and communities.

The Chicago Public Library has a comprehensive Eat Smart, Live Strong class series that covers the importance of physical activity, how to exercise safely, how to save money on food, and eating more fruits and vegetables. In 2020, the Queens Public Library in New York City partnered with local hospitals to provide free virtual programs about healthy living, recipes, and COVID-related information. 

Many libraries offer exercise classes such as yoga and tai chi to give people opportunities and space for physical activity. StoryWalks, such as the one in Chickasha, have become a popular way to combine reading with walking. The Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma offers a class in Yoga Fusion, described as “a trend that blends yoga poses with other fitness regimens, such as Pilates, strength training, [and] dance,” as well as yoga and tai chi classes. The Metropolitan Library System offers yoga classes for both adults and children.

Navigating the complexities of health insurance can also be overwhelming for many people, so the Dallas Public Library has the Health Care Navigators/Health Insurance Enrollment Assistance program, where “trained health care navigators will assist you with selecting and enrolling in a health insurance program through the health insurance marketplace.” 

Finally, mental health is an important area in which libraries are actively working to address and improve. Many state and national library organizations have lists of mental health resources and ideas for implementing services. One example from Texas is Libraries for Health, an initiative that “employs trained and culturally competent lay people with support from mental health clinicians to help identify and address mental health concerns where there is limited access to clinical mental health care.” Seymour Library in Auburn, New York, has created mental health kits to help children identify and understand emotion, along with curated lists of books (both print and digital) for all ages about a variety of mental health issues. Many larger libraries and library systems have added social workers and mental health professionals to their staff to provide evaluations and treatment options for people. 

Libraries can connect people with the resources to improve their health, access care, and learn many useful skills for healthy living. Besides providing print and digital information about mental and physical health (health books can be found in NF 600-620 at Chickasha Public Library), there are many unique possibilities for expanding library services to include programs and services for public health improvement and education.