In a recent post on Seasonal Affective Disorder, I mentioned that some of my local public libraries have special lamps that are used in treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms so that people can try them before making an investment. While perusing the health information at my local library brought up some suspicions (there are lots of “cure” type books present in libraries that are likely inaccurate, and I would never recommend following the information of such books that promise to cure a chronic medical condition such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, autism or ADHD without speaking with your doctor first. While many books at your local library may be great sources of information, this is one thing to be mindful of: not all books are trustworthy, just like not all health information on the internet is—this includes books from your public library! However, many public libraries do offer reliable services that may promote health in the communities they serve.
What type of services might a library offer to improve health?
While we’ve discussed that you need to be careful of the books on the shelf if they seem inflammatory or “too good to be true”, there are other services that public libraries may be home to or host on special occasions that help people get or stay healthy. Here are some examples
- Fitness classes. Believe it or not, our big downtown library offers lunchtime yoga classes for free. Your local library may have similar classes available, especially in downtown core areas for businesspeople on their lunch hours.
- Community information boards.Bulletin boards with health information, linking you to community groups, fitness classes, events, and more.
- Support groups.Some libraries may host support groups for health conditions. One such instance is the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia’s Burnaby chapter support group meets in a meeting room at the Burnaby, BC public library.  Check in with your local library to see what is available at your branch.
- Social activities.Kids stay and play groups, story time, and adult and teen book groups help people of all ages become more involved in their communities—and social engagement has been demonstrated to improve health. [1, 2]
- Internet and computer access.Need to fact check some health information and don’t have a computer at home, or your internet is down? Your local library likely has computer and internet terminals available. As well, libraries have subscription databases for scientific journals to help your research and fact checking.
- Social connection and information. For older adults specifically, internet use and social engagement (such as visiting friends, going to community events, movies, cultural activities, such as theatre and art galleries, may help prevent cognitive decline and promote health literacy in seniors.  There are many good things to be gained from being active and well-connected!
- Social workers.Our downtown core library has a social worker available for patrons to access information on social and health services, such as emergency shelter, housing, social assistance, employment, counselling and more. (His page on the website also says to stop by for a coffee and chat to see how he can help you! So there’s coffee involved, too!)
These are just a few resources you may find at your local public library that can help improve or maintain your health. I mean, who knew there was a social worker with an office in the back of the second floor of the library?! I didn’t until I was exploring the library one day!
What types of health services are available at your local library? Let us know in the comments!