Public Libraries as Hubs of Health Information
Public libraries serve communities in myriad ways, providing places where people gather to read, learn a new language, access the internet, pick up tax forms, or apply for jobs.
Now, with support from a President’s Engagement Prize, Penn Nursing graduate Melanie Mariano will help Philadelphia’s public libraries become hubs of health information and preventive health care for the city’s residents.
“The library is a place of social capital, it’s a place people see as a safe haven,” Mariano says. “If I can provide library visitors something similar to what a health clinic can provide in a less-intimidating environment, then why shouldn’t a nurse be there?”
Mariano’s inspiration for her PEP-winning project, Living HEALthy: Health Expansion Across the Libraries, came during the fall of her senior year at Penn. As part of a community health nursing course, she and her fellow students implemented health programming in the Paschalville Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia system in Southwest Philadelphia. While there, Mariano had several brief conversations with library visitors who lacked access to reliable health information.
“If I’m having these small interactions in this six-week period,” she says, “I can only imagine how many stories go untold and how many individuals fall through the cracks, by no fault of their own.”
With support from the course instructors, including her PEP mentor, Penn Nursing Senior Lecturer Monica Harmon, Mariano set out to transform the course’s community engagement component into “something a little more permanent and a little more prevalent,” she says.
She established a partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, whose leadership was eager to give visitors the chance to improve their health literacy.
Through Living HEALthy, Mariano will be embedded in the Free Library’s Central Branch. She will connect individuals with resources to address existing health concerns, provide preventive care tips, and offer in-house screenings for blood pressure, height , weight, vision, and hearing, along with advice on what to do if the results are out of normal ranges.
As the project evolves, she would like to expand across the city to involve nurses from neighborhood clinics who would spend time in other Free Library branches, perhaps even providing first aid and immunizations.
Mariano credits the President’s Engagement Prize with supporting her in pursuing her passion.
“I really think that if this opportunity wasn’t available I would have just had this idea and figured there was no way to implement it,” she says. “The availability of the Prize is telling students, ‘What you see as important is important and you have every right to pursue it.’”