Akron-Summit County Public Library and Healthy People: Prioritizing Educational Opportunities for Community Members

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 Akron-Summit County 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 Education Access and Quality.

Across the nation, libraries provide educational support for students, parents, and teachers. At Akron-Summit County Public Library in Ohio, that support takes many forms — with services ranging from early childhood reading programs to teen writing clubs.

The library works to meet many other needs in its community, too — and helping community members stay healthy is a top priority. For example, the library has a center that’s dedicated to helping people find accurate health information.

These education and health programs are closely aligned with objectives in Healthy People 2020 and Healthy People 2030 — and with the library’s mission to provide resources that “support, improve, and enrich individual, family, and community life.”

“Libraries are meant to help build people’s knowledge — and we do that in a variety of ways,” says Christopher Schmidt, Adult Services Librarian at Akron-Summit County Public Library. “Whether we’re pointing people to the right book or helping them find information about pressing health concerns, we’re here to help people learn.” 

Offering Engaging Educational Opportunities

A set of bookcases at the the Akron-Summit County Public Library

Any community member can sign up for a library card and check out books from Akron-Summit County Public Library — but the library also sends books into schools. Through the Books in Boxes program, teachers can check out a set of books for their classroom — 35 copies of the same title. That way every student has their own copy for independent reading assignments.

“Our Books in Boxes program is really popular. We have hundreds of titles for educators to choose from, and our librarians send out about 2 or 3 boxes a day,” says Monique Mason, Manager of the Business, Government, and Science Division at Akron-Summit County Public Library. “Through the program, we’re not only promoting literacy and reading but also supporting educators — and that’s important to us.”

The library also provides a variety of educational programs and resources for kids and teens. For example, it offers lessons on how to design, conduct, and present a science project — and it has an online index where students can access information about more than 40,000 science projects.

In addition, the library offers services specifically for teachers. Its Resources for Early Childhood Educators (RECE) Lab houses a number of tools — like printers, laminating and binding machines, and a custom shape cutter — that teachers can use to create learning materials for their classrooms.

“The services and resources we provide to our community go far beyond books,” Mason says. “Our focus is on offering a range of support to meet community members’ needs — whether that means supporting students and teachers in the classroom or making sure people in the community can access high-quality, accurate information.”

Making Accurate Health Information Accessible

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for accessible, accurate health information. But Akron-Summit County Public Library has been directing community members to evidence-based health information for over a decade through its Health Information Center. The library established the center in 2009 through a partnership with the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM)

At the center, staff members direct people to evidence-based print materials — and post digital resources to the library’s website. These employees are Consumer Health Information Specialists, a designation of the Medical Library Association.

Their work has been especially important during the pandemic, which sparked an unprecedented rise in health misinformation. Schmidt notes that the library was one of the few places people could go — besides the internet — to get health information for free.

“We’re proud that we have a full Health Information Center dedicated to providing accurate health information from trusted sources,” Mason says. “And we’re proud of the role we have in improving our community’s health and well-being.”

Taking the Next Step with Healthy People 2030

Mason says she’s excited for Akron-Summit County Public Library to use Healthy People resources in the coming decade to support its Health Information Center’s health literacy work. And Schmidt says he hopes the library’s work with the Healthy People initiative will demonstrate to more people how libraries can help improve health and well-being.

“Libraries across the country are interacting with our communities every day,” he says. “Libraries can be a valuable partner to health organizations — which is why I want to encourage all of our fellow Healthy People Champions to partner with their local library.”

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: health.gov Blog, Healthy People in Action