Over decades, libraries have grown from spaces solely to check out books into community hubs. They offer job resources, access to computers, educational opportunities, and more.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 17,000 public libraries receiving 4 million visits daily, according to a study published in the Journal of Community Health.
And now, in Maryland, some libraries are capitalizing on that community trust to help address health disparities.
A newly created partnership between the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) will provide much-needed health resources to the community while providing a critical clinical experience for nursing students.
The initiative — Talk Health with the University of Maryland School of Nursing — places entry Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students from UMSON at the Universities at Shady Grove in the PGCMLS Greenbelt Branch Library on Mondays this fall.
The collaboration between UMSON and the library system expands work that began early this year. Last spring, UMSON BSN students were placed in multiple branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library throughout Baltimore in a partnership that was the first of its kind in Maryland.
For BSN student Bukola Oladipuo, working directly with community members is extremely fulfilling, especially when it comes to educating them about the importance of managing their health.
“A lot of people — after checking them, we realize that they didn’t take their blood pressure medication that morning,” Oladipuo said. “Letting them know how important it is to be compliant with the medication regimen — it’s something rewarding for me.”
A Hands-On Lesson in Care
Oladipuo especially likes to be able to provide care to others — that’s why she decided to pursue nursing. And this community-embedded clinical experience allows her to do just that.
Each week, she and her fellow classmates spend the day at the Greenbelt Branch Library providing health screenings such as blood pressure checks, light physical activity programs, and educational presentations on topics such as high cholesterol and diabetes.
As flu season approaches, the students have also provided information about vaccinations and where to receive them.
“What we are doing in this location is engaging with different people, most especially with older adults, because this community has retirees,” Oladipuo said. “They come to the library for different activities. So far, we have some people that don’t know how to follow up with their health.”
Talk Health with the University of Maryland School of Nursing — while beneficial to the community — also provides a crucial important opportunity for nursing students to learn about community health in a hands-on way.
This type of clinical experience allows students to interact with community members who may come from different backgrounds than those they see in a hospital setting, said Sarah Chapman, MS, RN, the UMSON clinical instructor who is leading the clinical rotation at the library.
“We want to try to have the students have an experience outside of the hospital so they can see what are the kinds of challenges that people have in their everyday life,” she said. “We want to meet people where they are. They get an important, but limited, experience in the hospital. So, we try and get them out of the hospital into the community to try and serve a wide variety of people.”
Building Healthier Communities
And this model — of meeting community members where they already are — really works.
“Public libraries and public health are a natural combination,” said Karin Russ, JD, MS ’09, BSN ’89, RN, UMSON assistant professor. “Libraries are one of the last free spaces, and they provide the public with access to information and technology. And now, they will provide the ability to talk with health professionals one-on-one.”
By partnering with UMSON for the Talk Health series, PGCMLS continues a long tradition of offering health resources to Prince George’s County residents, said PGCMLS Central Area Director Quemar Rhoden, who worked closely with UMSON to help launch the partnership.
“The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System is able to provide access to health information and resources to the public with key services such as blood pressure screenings, medication education, and primary care referrals,” Rhoden said. “The University of Maryland School of Nursing is an amazing organization, and we are truly grateful for their entire team that makes such a meaningful impact in the lives, and health, of our customers.”
Tiffany Connelly, a Prince George’s County resident, just happened to stop at the library on a recent Monday in October so her son could use the restroom. In doing so, she came across the blood pressure station and decided to stop.
“It was nice and free and easy,” Connelly said. “This is awesome. I really love it. I probably would not have thought about what my blood pressure was. But they were here and so I was able to just get it on a run into the bathroom and go on my way.”
And, after getting it checked, she was also able to receive information about flu shots in the county.
“There's a lot of people who can’t always get to these kinds of things or go to a doctor,” she added. “So, it’s really nice when the things come to the community instead of the community suffering or not having access.”
Russ, who coordinates clinical experiences for the BSN Community and Public Health nursing course and has been teaching public health and environmental health classes at UMSON since 2009, said the school looks forward to being able to help improve health equity in Prince George’s County.
“This new partnership is a cost-effective way to build healthier communities,” she added.
For more information about the partnership, and to see the full schedule, visit https://tinyurl.com/d9c3zvmb.