Literacy Project Collaboration

Nearly one year ago, I applied for funding from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine – New England Region to support collaboration between the Baystate Health Sciences Library and The Literacy Project.  This particular proposal focused on Franklin County, Massachusetts.  The award would give protected time to adult literacy instructors so that they could learn about finding reliable health information on the internet.  My travel would be reimbursed, but most of the funds would be distributed to The Literacy Project.

Literacy Project, North Quabbin Region

The Literacy Project has served Western Massachusetts since 1984, offering free classes in beginning literacy, high school equivalency exam prep and computer literacy.  Students work toward their own goals, at their own pace.

This proposal marks my first push into Franklin County, one of four counties of Western Massachusetts.  Baystate Health serves the entire region, but my library outreach is primarily Springfield-based.  One of my goals is to expand library outreach.   Last fall, I learned that Baystate Health had an existing relationship with The Literacy Project in Franklin County.  I actually read about this in a local newspaper, rather than getting an inside tip at work!

After reading the newspaper article, I discovered this local cable TV interview with Cathy King (her interview starts at 16:12).  After watching this interview, I started emailing people that I knew.  They cheerfully introduced me to the right people.

I explained that I  interested in expanding upon the existing project by helping the instructors take a critical look at health information websites. Judith Roberts, Executive Director of The Literacy Project, and I met learn more about what each organization brought to the table.  We traded some hectic emails to get the proposal written and submitted in late December 2013.

We received notice that we were funded in June 2014.  Judith and I met twice this summer to iron out the details of our work.  In September, I faced the daunting task of getting IRB approval for my pre- and post-surveys.  By October, I was ready for my “train-the-trainer” sessions.  The plan was to spend 90 minutes with three instructors, reviewing health information websites and demonstrating searches in MedlinePlus.

In introducing the project to the instructors, I talked about the importance of community partnerships in population health. I wanted to start our collaboration with an acknowledgment that they play a unique part in the health of their communities. The instructors are trusted helpers, and may find themselves helping people who are not comfortable asking their doctors for additional educational materials.

In those three sessions, I learned that the instructors are working with students who have no internet at home.  A few students are able to access the internet with a phone, but that is not common.  These students do not use computers in public libraries.  They come to the safe haven of The Literacy Project.

In January, we will reconvene to discuss how their classes are progressing.  I am curious to hear their feedback.

Here is a compilation of my slides.