Public librarians and public health: How do partners perceive them?




Collective impact, community partnerships, health promotion, public libraries, qualitative methods, community coalitions


Public libraries are increasingly recognized as community partners that improve the reach of health promotion organizations. The capacity of libraries to support community-based health initiatives has previously been studied through case studies in particular communities. Few national studies have considered how and why public libraries are perceived as part of the community health environment. With the aim of understanding how libraries are perceived in the context of promoting healthy eating and active living, this article examines the characteristics of successful community partnerships involving public libraries. This article uses data from interviews with librarians and their partners in 18 communities in 16 states across the United States. Case studies selection utilized a sentinel community approach to identify public libraries that self-identify as actively involved in community based health initiatives. Findings indicate that libraries are seen as trusted connectors, community experts, and organizations that share goals with health promotion organizations. Nevertheless, the strength of these partnerships is diminished by several factors. Improving and codifying community collaborations involving public libraries is identified as an opportunity to address this trend. The discussion focuses on how increased understanding of this trend both within the public health and within the public library profession would contribute to better including public libraries and public librarians in the promotion of community health.