ABQLA2010: How Can Public Librarians Address the Health Needs of Their Community?

Reported by Sara Holder

ImageWhen it comes to making decisions about our health we are all encouraged to be actively informed and engaged; however, with so much information available to us, where can we turn for help finding answers? In her session at this year's ABQLA Conference, Susan Murray, Head of the Life Sciences Library at McGill University, presented a model of how public libraries can partner with local agencies and health care intermediaries to provide this service.

This type of partnership was successfully accomplished with the creation of the Consumer Health Information Service (CHIS), which Susan developed and managed. CHIS was a free and confidential service (located in Ontario) that provided a range of information to help consumers make informed health care decisions. The service began in 1992 as a pilot project funded by the Health Strategies Fund with six partner organizations: University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies, Consumers’ Association of Canada, University Health Network (formerly Toronto Hospital, General Division), Toronto Reference Library, and the University of Toronto Centre for Health Promotion.

ImageIn order to ensure that the service is meeting the needs of the community it will be serving, Susan stressed the importance of completing a detailed needs assessment before designing the service and then continuing to assess on a regular basis. In the case of CHIS this included consulting government and public policy documents for demographic and statistical data and trends and connecting with people in the community such as community leaders, service agencies, health sciences libraries, healthcare providers, government representatives, hospices, funeral homes, and special populations (seniors, teens, homeless, etc.). The results of these needs assessments can be used to inform the priorities of the service – both the initial priorities and changes that will be made down the road.