“Health information is so important and so many people don’t understand how to ask the right questions. It takes a lot of courage to tell someone you don’t know something. As long as you treat us with respect and show the right attitude, we’re not going to be offended by how many questions you have to ask us in order to help us find the information we’re looking for.” —Carol, adult learner from Tulsa
In 2019, the 30th annual America’s Health Rankings, produced by United Health Foundation, listed Oklahoma as one of the 5 least healthy states. Contributing to the low score were high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and low rates of physical inactivity, child immunizations and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
More and more, there are opportunities for all types of organizations to collaborate to promote health and wellness in the community. Nationally and in Oklahoma, public libraries are resources for credible health information and sites for health-related programming directed toward children, teens, adults, and families.
Why libraries? A 2015 Pew Research Study indicated that 73% of people who visited a public library in America went there looking for answers about their health. Libraries are trusted community institutions that offer a non-threatening environment, are staffed with information experts, and provide free access to a wide variety of resources.
For the past few years, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries has helped foster significant partnerships at state and local levels to promote health and wellness. Federal funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services allowed ODL to offer health literacy grants to public libraries and adult literacy programs. As a result of this funding, grantees have targeted specific health needs of their community and expanded resources and services to address these needs.
Examples of local health literacy activities in Oklahoma
Southern Oklahoma Library System hosted a number of health and wellness programs in public libraries throughout south central Oklahoma. Classes included everything from healthy cooking demonstrations and Tai Chi to a hay bale garden and chair exercise classes at a Veteran’s center.
Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services offered 45 classes, including Stress Management, Preventing Influenza, and Healthy Aging. Special health presentations provided basic health and wellness information to adult learners participating in the adult literacy program.
Beaver County Pioneer Library helped children understand the importance of eating fruit and vegetables during the Grow It, Try It, Like It program. During the 4-week series, library staff shared books about fruits and vegetables, and community partners talked to parents and children about healthy eating. Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates classes were also available, free of charge, to members of the community.
Moore Public Library reached more than 2,835 children, teens and adults through more than 108 health and wellness classes. Their Argentine Tango Class provided a fun and interesting way to get participants up and moving. A Back to School Health Fair was attended by more than 255 community members.
Seminole Public Library collaborated with a number of community partners to promote physical activity with Jump Rope Clubs in six schools throughout the county. By the end of the project, participating third through eighth grade students improved their jumps per minute and body mass index. They also learned how to read food labels, why it is important to reduce sugar and salt consumption, and why exercise is good for heart health.
Western Oklahoma Learning Center in Elk City provided health wellness information to English language learners, seniors, and the community at large. Two family swim nights featuring water aerobics for all ages, and low intensity exercise classes were available to seniors. Twenty-six community members participated in the American Public Health Association’s Billion Step Challenge logging 12,960 steps.