Beyond Books Public Libraries As Partners For Population Health
Author: Anna U. Morgan, Roxanne Dupuis, Bernadette D’Alonzo, Andria Johnson, Amy Graves, Kiahana L. Brooks, Autumn McClintock, Heather Klusaritz, Hillary Bogner, Judith A. Long, David Grande, Carolyn C. Cannuscio
Public libraries are not usually included in discussions about improving population health. They are, however, well positioned to be partners in building a culture of health through programming that addresses the social determinants of health. The Healthy Library Initiative, a partnership between the University of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia (the public library system that serves the city), has undertaken such efforts in Philadelphia. In this article we report findings from an assessment of how ten highly subscribed programs address the social determinants of health, as well as results of interviews with community residents and library staff. Of the 5.8 million in-person Free Library visits in 2015, 500,000 included attendance at specialized programs that addressed multiple health determinants, such as housing and literacy. Library staff provided intensive support to vulnerable populations including homeless people, people with mental illness and substance use, recent immigrants, and children and families suffering from trauma. We found that public libraries are trusted institutions that have broad population reach and untapped potential to improve population health.