My participation in health fairs is evolving. In 2011, I barely knew what I was doing. I arrived with a wobbly card table (the old-fashioned kind with a padded top), a handful of brochures and my curiosity. Who lives in this neighborhood? Who are my fellow vendors? What materials am I lacking?
I learned quickly that a tent is important —to shelter me from sun and rain. After the tent purchase, I asked my director to order a tablecloth with the Baystate Health swoosh and the designation Health Sciences Library. I learned that I need something to keep my brochures from flying off the table. I use colorful binder clips. I’ll never forget the time that a young child, enchanted by the neon colors, took a small handful as if they were giveaways. Now, I keep the binder clips out of sight until I am ready to start using them.
In 2014, I know to ask ahead if tables are provided. This is a huge plus! The lack of tables is enough to dissuade me if my schedule is busy. I still lug around my card table, but have plans to purchase a plastic folding table. I’ve gotten recommendations from other vendors.
I’ve learned that those vendors are my best allies. I see the same friendly faces at neighborhoods all over Springfield. I’ve learned to arrive early and start breaking down as soon as the raffle starts (if there is a raffle—and there frequently is). If traffic is slow at the health fair, the vendors will make the rounds. We meet each other and learn about services available to the community. We trade business cards & “share” Facebook postings. I get invitations to other events.
I made a personal decision not to give away candy or swag. Instead, I promote my health brochures and the library services. I put out some standard brochures on healthy eating and exercise. I include a few on behavioral health—depression, eating or sleep disorders. Brochures on habits are popular (screen time, e-cigarettes). I started offering brochures on marijuana and driving. People are curious.
When I started going to health fairs, I simply gave away materials and talked about services. Now, I actively offer services. As folks are browsing my table, I offer to research a topic of interest to them. If they take me up on this offer, I ask them to self-address a large envelope while I jot down the topic on a request form. I slip the request form into the envelope and fill the request when I get back to my library.
Getting an envelope full of stuff is a buzz—especially if that stuff was chosen for you with your needs in mind. I write a nice note, thanking the requestor for stopping by my table. I include my business card. My hope is that the interaction will demonstrate the role medical libraries play in patient empowerment. The interaction with a librarian is more significant than swag.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing your pictures from the different health fairs that you attend. I also like how you describe (and do) your proactive approach. It’s a wonderful example of librarians working for the public good.
Thanks, Sally! Each health fair is so different, and I learn so much by just being out in different neighborhoods.
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