Libraries and Health in Okla. – Susan McVey

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Susan McVey

Libraries and Health in Oklahoma


Oklahoma ranks in the bottom five in the country for overall health. When looking at Oklahoma’s health challenges, we can cite obesity, lack of physical activity, heart disease, diabetes, and smoking.

This crisis should be a focus of all sectors to address. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries identified health as a priority in our grants to public libraries over the last four years and awarded 58 grants to 26 communities to provide resources and programs to improve health outcomes in their community.

Why are public libraries effective partners in improving Oklahoma’s health? 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. A study by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services showed that over a 12-month period, an estimated 28 million people used their public library to seek assistance from the librarian and use library computers for information about health and wellness issues, including learning about medical conditions and finding health care providers.

Libraries are trusted community institutions that offer a non–threatening environment to all members of the community. Each of our grantees was asked to plan a project that addressed actual health needs of the community as identified by county information in the State of the State Health report. They worked with community partners to design project details.

Here are just two examples of grant activities in Oklahoma where public libraries collaborated to improve the health of their community:

1. A virtual Route 66 walk-a-thon was held in the small town of Elk City where individuals and teams were challenged to walk the equivalent distance from Chicago to Santa Monica and record steps on a map at the library. Sixty individuals walked a total of 16,261 miles, and articles about the project were featured in the local paper along information on the benefits of increased exercise.

2. At the Moore Public Library the project challenged folks to climb the virtual Mount Moore. The library had a goal of 15,000,000 steps, and when the challenge ended, 433 participants had logged 18,400,000 steps.

Library sites were required to partner with other organizations in their community. Along with county health departments, these cross-sector collaborations were one of the project’s most rewarding and amazing outcomes.

This list of partners identified by last year’s health literacy sites shows more than forty-three organizations including the Council on Aging, doctors and dentists, food pantries and grocery stores, tribal health centers, senior centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine.

These partners provided instructors, resources, funding, awareness, and a wealth of ideas that enhanced the local efforts throughout the state.

A quote from a grant recipient indicates another outcome: “Good health for the community has become a mission for me. I didn’t realize how poor our health was until I began looking at the statistics. It is very important for libraries to address the needs of their communities, and this is a great need.”



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