New Jersey Libraries Promote Health Equity with NJHealthConnect @ Your Library

NJHI 2018: Upstream Action Acceleration Mobilizing Just for the Health of It: Health Information Library on Wheels

Filmmaker and author Michael Moore once said about librarians “They are subversive.  You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”  When it comes to helping people most in need, never underestimate the collective power of New Jersey’s librarians. More than 150 libraries from all corners of the state have come together to form NJHealthConnect @ Your Library, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 through the New Jersey State Library. This nine-month project, set to launch in late January 2022, will be spearheaded by the East Brunswick Public Library (EBPL), a member of Healthier Middlesex. NJHealthConnect @ Your Library will engage public libraries throughout New Jersey in addressing access to care and services as a barrier to health equity that Healthier Middlesex partners identified in their most recent Community Health Needs Assessment.

NJHealthConnect @ Your Library taps the talents of librarians and the physical accessibility of public libraries to bring health information to some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities. Their residents, especially immigrants, seniors, and people from low incomes, unjustly bear the consequences of low health literacy. These consequences can include longer hospitalizations and recoveries, more frequent visits to the emergency room, diagnosis of disease at a later stage, depression, higher risk of COVID infection, lack of health insurance and a higher risk of death. Many do not own a computer, putting vital health information needed to make informed decisions beyond their reach. Others need health information in their native language or written at a lower literacy level so that they can discuss their diagnoses, treatments and choices with their medical provider.  In addition, lifestyle constraints such as working irregular or nighttime shifts prohibits vulnerable people, especially immigrants, from seeing a doctor during normal visiting hours. 

NJHealthConnect @ Your Library addresses the barrier of access to care and services by providing 450 iPads to more than 150 communities in New Jersey, with a focus on the areas that rank higher on the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Municipal Revitalization Index, which measures community need and distress. It’s a simple project, being marketed as “health literacy in a box.” Each iPad will arrive preconfigured with apps and links to 24/7 telemedicine sites; places for mental health support for all ages; Covid updates in English and Spanish; and multilingual health information. The iPads include apps for Google Meet and Zoom to meet with a doctor virtually or conduct a job interview since employment is a social determinant of health.

Michele Stricker, Deputy State Librarian for Lifelong Learning, NJ State Library, and Karen Parry, Director of the East Brunswick Public Library, provided an overview of the NJHealthConnect @ Your Library initiative in a NJ State Library presentation in November 2021.

NJHealthConnect @ Your Library will be spearheaded by the East Brunswick Public Library’s Information Technology Department, Marketing Coordinator, and a dedicated NJHealthConnect Librarian who was hired to support the project. EBPL staff will set up the iPads, deliver them to each library, and provide a basic tutorial.  Marketing details were addressed with ready-made flyer templates and social media messaging shared with participating libraries. EBPL staff will remotely manage the iPads, troubleshoot questions, and collect circulation statistics. All hands are on deck to make this project a success; even the library’s Director and Information Services Manager will play a part in training libraries to use and promote the iPads to their communities. View the list of participating libraries.

There is a need for public libraries to play a role in advancing health equity through NJHealthConnect @ Your Library. The program aligns with the government’s Healthy People 2030 mission to help people access timely, high-quality health care services so that good health is within everyone’s grasp. The program also supports research by the Institute of Museum and Library Services that “libraries are indispensable connective tissue that keeps healthy communities together.”

For more information about this initiative, contact Karen Parry, Manager of Information Services and the Just for the Health of It program at the East Brunswick Public Library.

Karen Parry
East Brunswick Public Library