Partnering with Public Libraries: Report

Woman at ComputerI received funding from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) for the work that I am doing with Springfield City Library.  The funding helped offset our expenses from January-April 2011.  I am in the process of writing my final report for that funding.  As a result, I am taking a good look at how the classes worked and what we lacked.

Baystate Health Sciences Library and Springfield City Library offered monthly instruction in the use of MedlinePlus.gov as a reliable source of health information on the internet.  Each class featured a distinct health topic, such as Diabetes, Healthy Weight, Heart Health and Autism. 

We anticipated that most of the class participants would be patrons of Springfield City Library and that they would have low- to moderate computer skills.  Our goals were to boost confidence levels in the use of MedlinePlus and to satisfy those interested in learning how to find reliable health information on the internet. 

According to our evaluations, the project achieved the two goals of increasing confidence levels and satisfying participants.  The project successfully attracted low- to moderately skilled computer users in the City of Springfield.  Our biggest problem?  Enrollment numbers.

We had an average of 6 participants for our classes, including those that were held in 2010.   This is lower than the expected numbers for Springfield City Library classes on Computer Basics, Web Basics, and Microsoft Office.  We realize that community members may not be accustomed to computer classes on specific topics like health information. 

According to the 2009 National Survey of Public Library Computer and Internet Access, 90.1% of Massachusetts public libraries offer classes on general internet use (email, browsing, etc).  Only 10.8% offer classes on accessing government information (Medicare, taxes), 13.6% on accessing job-seeking information, and 14.5% on accessing medical information.  I suspect that more libraries are offering  job-seeking classes in 2010-2011 due to the current economy.  Likewise, I hope to attach public libraries to national efforts for improving health literacy skills by 2020.

Our class evaluations indicate that this is plausible.  Our pre-instruction assessments found that only 21.4% of class participants felt that they knew how to search for information in MedlinePlus.gov and only 42.8% felt that they knew how to print information from the website.  After instruction, 100% agreed or strongly agreed that they knew more about MedlinePlus.gov and felt more comfortable with using computers.

Our most successful marketing strategy was to recruit participants of the Web Basics classes.  Matthew Jaquith, Springfield City Library’s Programs & Training Librarian, encouraged those class participants to come practice their new skills.  The classes on MedlinePlus.gov reinforced information literacy concepts taught in the Web Basics class.  Here was a chance to get help with computer skills (scrolling, clicking, printing and looking for new windows) while looking for information about health topics. 

In May, we offered a class on probiotics.  I spent time going over evidence grading, and then we did some live searching in MedlinePlus on the proven use of probiotics.  Our participants enjoyed the class.  This summer, we are offering classes on Omega-3’s and Vitamins/Supplements (I’ll focus on Vitamin D). 

I do want to figure out the marketing piece, but I also want to look at how I measure impact.  There may be more to this story.  Sure, I had participants check off boxes that they learned something.  But, how does that learning impact their lives?

One thought on “Partnering with Public Libraries: Report

  1. Having classes on basic computer use is a great service to the community, teaching new job skills that can be helpful in the future.

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