The Health Information Library on Wheels Gets Personal By Providing Culturally-Focused Health Information

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

It’s been two years since the Health Information Library on Wheels (HILOW), a collaboration of Healthier Middlesex and the East Brunswick Public Library, set out on a journey to improve the health of Middlesex County residents. In their travels, the librarians have met more than 6,000 people at community fairs, blood drives, film festivals, senior centers, schools, libraries, support groups, and other community events.  Collectively, the visitors represented the culturally diverse tapestry of Middlesex County.  The librarians watched as visitors eagerly stuffed their bags with articles about chronic health conditions and diseases, crayons and coloring books about fruits and veggies, and fun giveaways.  We never ceased to marvel at their warmth and appreciation.  Two years later, we find ourselves enlightened but also humbled.   Our librarians learned about the barriers to health literacy as our intended audience, especially immigrants, trusted us with their intimate health questions and stories of struggles.  Our simple, “one size fits all” plan to visit places in the community each week to distribute health information morphed into something new.  The HILOW now spreads the word about health literacy with virtual, culturally-targeted programs that are finely tuned to engage and empower residents as active stewards of their health.

The HILOW’s virtual health programs are taught in different languages by doctors and presenters who are also community members.  They understand the norms, mores, folklore and taboos of immigrant cultures that can be underlying barriers to health equity.  As an example, our English-Chinese Health Education Workshops are run by both English- and Mandarin- speaking instructors on topics such as Vision Care, Mental Health, Nutrition, Colorectal Health, Well-being During COVID-19, Genetics and Cancer.  Our Open Enrollment 2021 program answered questions about the Get Covered NJ state marketplace in both English and Spanish.  During this program, our bilingual social worker provided information to participants who had questions about health insurance, food, housing and mental health supports.  The library is excited to expand its suite of multicultural programming to include South Asian and other communities with presenters who are culturally attuned.

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Karen Parry
East Brunswick Public Library