Sacramento Public Library and Healthy People: Prioritizing Health Literacy to Meet Community Members’ Needs

This post is part of Healthy People 2020 in Review, a blog series highlighting how organizations across the nation are addressing social determinants of health — and how their efforts have helped us make progress toward Healthy People goals and objectives. The post describes how Sacramento Public Library, a Healthy People 2030 Champion, contributed to progress toward Healthy People 2020 objectives — as well as Healthy People 2030 objectives under the social determinants of health domain Social and Community Context

Libraries are a great place to find a good read, but they’re so much more than that. They also serve as community centers and provide a wide variety of needed resources and education. Sacramento Public Library is a prime example, with offerings ranging from reading and math programs for children to career development and online business classes for adults.  

The library also has a strong focus on health literacy, a Healthy People 2030 priority area.  

“We recognize that our community has so many diverse health needs,” says Katie Ball, Special Projects Associate at Sacramento Public Library. “By providing clear information about health topics and helping people build their health literacy skills, we can contribute to a healthier community.” 

The library’s health literacy offerings include a variety of educational health and wellness programs, health kits —  and even blood pressure clinics where patients can get heart health tips. This work is closely aligned with objectives in Healthy People 2020 and Healthy People 2030 — and demonstrates the critical role that libraries play in serving communities nationwide. 

“We’re the great connector who brings in experts that can provide services to the community. Books are just the beginning of what we do,” Ball says. 

Providing Clear, Accessible Health Information 

Through a variety of resources and programs, Sacramento Public Library provides actionable health tips and guidance for community members. For example, it hosts virtual speakers from local organizations who cover topics including health screenings, guidance on managing different health conditions, and tips for finding credible health information.  

3 adults sit at a table together in a library collaborating on a project

But the library goes beyond simply providing health information — by taking an empathetic approach in its health literacy programs. It recognizes that health can be incredibly personal and that people’s health literacy skills can change based on their circumstances.  

This is why Sacramento Public Library partnered with Samuel Merritt University to offer “Ask a Nurse” events. During the events, registered nurses taught community members about topics like blood pressure management and COVID-19 prevention. “Ask a Nurse” prioritized the human connection — between the nurses and community members — to empower people to take care of their health. 

The library also offers free blood pressure clinics where nurses not only take visitors’ blood pressure but also provide heart health tips and resources. 

In addition, the library serves community members from many cultures and backgrounds, including a large number of immigrants and refugees. That’s why it provides health resources in Spanish, Russian, and Hmong. This work to reduce language barriers is a key part of addressing social determinants of health and advancing health equity — 2 other Healthy People 2030 priority areas. 

“We serve many different communities with many different needs,” Ball says. “Meeting those needs means providing information that’s both accessible and culturally relevant.” 

Promoting Wellness and Connection 

Sacramento Public Library also offers many virtual health and wellness programs. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic it introduced a range of virtual mindfulness and wellness activities — like yoga, journaling groups, and breathing exercises — to help people keep stress levels down.  

In addition, the library provides “health kits” on a variety of topics, like Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s kits offer resources for people with Alzheimer’s and important health information for their caregivers. The “Memory Lane” kits, for instance, have music, photos, and conversation starters about topics from different decades to help caregivers connect with their loved ones. 

“A patron who used one of our Memory Lane kits with his mom said that he’s seen such an improvement in her communication with him,” Ball says. “It was such an impactful thing to hear that this kit we put out there can really help people affected by Alzheimer’s.”  

Looking Ahead in the New Decade 

Ball says she’s excited for Sacramento Public Library to use Healthy People 2030 objectives and resources to ramp up implementation and evaluation of its health literacy programming and other programs this decade.  

She’s also looking forward to the library replacing its current fleet of mobile units — or “bookmobiles” — with electric-powered vehicles. It’s one step the library is taking to reduce its carbon footprint and do its part to create a healthier environment in Sacramento County. 

The bookmobiles will provide books to people throughout the county, including newly arrived immigrants and refugees. In addition, nurses will travel with the bookmobiles to provide essential health services and health education to more community members. And patrons along these routes can also expect job search support to help them find steady employment. 

“I’m excited to see our services expand beyond the walls of our library,” says Ball. “It’s about meeting people where they are and letting them know that we’ll come to them.” 

If your organization works to address social determinants of health and achieve health equity, consider applying to join the Healthy People 2030 Champion Program

Categories: Blog, Healthy People in Action