Librarians provide Little Free Libraries in Okeechobee County to improve access to health information

A small blue container with a window holding booksThe Health Science Center Libraries (HSCL) librarians, in collaboration with the Okeechobee County Public Library (OCL), were awarded a Network of the National Library of Medicine Southeastern/Atlantic Region All of Us Community Engagement Project Award to improve access to quality health information in rural county communities through the innovative Little Free Libraries system.

OCL is building 30 Little Free Libraries to hold 30-50 books each, located on county properties near low-income neighborhoods, such as parks, sport centers and civic centers. OCL will collaborate with their local health department to conduct weekly mobile health reference hours at the Little Free Libraries when it is safe to do so.

Grant funding was used to purchase 424 consumer health and health literacy books and 40 professionally printed consumer health resources such as bookmarks and brochures in English and Spanish. Laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, and a printer were also purchased, to enable access to online health resources during Little Free Library reference sessions. To prepare OCL and Okeechobee County health educators for these exciting new health reference services and outreach events, the HSCL librarians developed a one-day online training workshop on health reference techniques, evaluating and using online health resources, health literacy, strategies for successful health tabling and conveying the benefits of All of Us to patrons. Attendees self-assessed their learning before and after the training, which revealed that the training increased their ability to navigate health information online.

Although project completion has been delayed by COVID-19, the health books purchased have already been an important resource for lower-income rural families in Okeechobee. At the most popular Little Free Library location, over 600 items have circulated since April, with resources about teaching children healthy habits and children’s books about emotions being the most popular. The project has been well received in the community and has been featured in local print news coverage. Plans to expand the program are already in development for the future, once it becomes safe to do so.