Promoting Individual and Community Health at the Library. By Mary Grace Flaherty. Chicago: ALA, 2018. 134 p. Paper $45.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-1627-8).

Interest in consumer health information has been steadily growing since the mid-twentieth century. As author Mary Grace Flaherty notes in her second chapter, Dr. Benjamin Spock published his book on baby care in 1946, and in 1973, the Boston Women’s Health Collective introduced Our Bodies, Ourselves; both of these supremely popular books offered accessible medical information to the general public and were revised and reprinted many times. In 1996, the Medical Library Association’s Consumer and Patient Health Information Section generated a policy statement addressing how librarians could be involved in facilitating access to consumer health information, and the Institute of Medicine began studying health care delivery in the United States, subsequently affirming that understandable consumer health information is integral to successful medical treatment.

In this approachable book, Flaherty covers a range of roles, practices, and strategies related to the provision of health information and programs in public libraries. Many library and information science students receive little exposure to health resources, programming, and services prior to becoming professionals, and this volume offers clarity about what this area of public librarianship comprises and how to develop actionable procedures and activities to serve the health information needs of patrons and communities.

After introducing the fundamentals of health literacy and consumer health information in the first two chapters, chapter three delves into public library provision of health information, focusing on how librarians can evaluate and remain current with medical information and resources, field potentially uncomfortable reference interactions, guide patrons, and manage collections. In chapter four, Flaherty focuses on health programming, highlighting resources that librarians can use for planning and implementing activities, with plenty of examples of what libraries are currently doing. She suggests ways to generate ideas and objectives, address the needs of diverse groups, promote programs and services, and evaluate health-related activities.

Chapter five centers on community outreach and building relationships with public health departments, health care organizations, senior centers, schools, social service agencies, cooperative extensions, colleges, and many other organizations. In doing so, Flaherty suggests collaborative activities that libraries can propose for health-related activities. She also stresses the importance of being aware of community needs so that libraries can provide programs and services best suited to the people they serve. In chapter six, Flaherty addresses disaster preparedness and libraries’ roles during public health crises. Given that public libraries are often essential sources of information, support, and refuge during disasters, Flaherty specifies ways that libraries can prepare for such situations through training and partnerships with community organizations.

Flaherty closes out the book in chapter seven by summarizing several issues to take into account when implementing health-related services and programming. She notes the importance of training LIS students through classes, independent study, and internships, and emphasizes that public library collaborations with medical libraries enhance employees’ understanding of health information provision. Flaherty also addresses ethical concerns and cultural sensitivity in health information reference, stressing issues of privacy and confidentiality, as well as addressing people “on their own terms,” regardless of background, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so forth.

Overall, this volume is easy to navigate and informative. It offers practical strategies as well as descriptive scenarios that add to the reader’s understanding of this topic. Flaherty intersperses the text with case studies, examples, personal reflections from librarians, helpful tables and figures, and many other resources. As there are few books available that tackle public libraries and their roles and impact on individual and community health, this book fills an important gap and should appeal to students, novice librarians, and seasoned professionals alike.—Ellen Rubenstein, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma


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