Moving toward Health Justice in the COVID-19 Era: A Sampling of US Public Libraries’ Efforts
Morgan Adle, Jane Behre, Brian Real, Beth St. Jean
Date: April 26, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has both illuminated and intensified health disparities in the United States over the past several years. In response to issues they have seen affecting their communities, public libraries and librarians have responded nimbly and innovatively to this evolving, unprecedented health crisis. They have adapted existing services and developed new resources, programs, and services to address the public’s need for information and beyond. In this presentation, we will share the findings from our investigation into these efforts, reflecting on a sampling of U.S. public libraries’ COVID-19–related offerings. These offerings include providing access to reliable information and information technologies, information literacy training, programs to improve people’s mental and physical health, and resources enabling people to engage in important health behaviors such as wearing masks and self-testing. Some libraries have also offered programs tailored to particular populations (e.g., adults with developmental disabilities), including programs focused specifically on health disparities and racism experienced by particular populations. We will also discuss equality (providing the same support to everyone), equity (providing the support that each person needs), and justice (removing barriers so no support is needed) as it relates to health. Our exploratory study revealed that libraries’ offerings span the entire equality-equity-justice continuum, with relatively fewer offerings falling into the justice segment, suggesting the importance of further investigations into such initiatives.
About the Speakers
Morgan Adle is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has a BA in English Literature and a Master of Library Science (MLS) from the University of Maryland. Before returning to UMD as the MLIS Program Manager, she taught K-6 ESL and then became a lecturer at Chonnam National University in South Korea. She also has experience working in records management, special collections and archives, and metadata. Her research interests include information literacy, health literacy, and library and information science (LIS) curriculum.
Jane Behre is a second-year Ph.D. student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She holds an MLIS from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her recent research has focused on the sexual health information needs and behaviors of young adults, and the types of information needs that LGBTQ+ young adults may keep secret. She is also a researcher for Marylanders Online, a statewide initiative focused on improving digital literacy across the state of Maryland.
Brian Real is an Assistant Professor, School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky. Real holds a PhD in Information Studies and a Master of Library Science from the University of Maryland. His research on public libraries has included work on digital inclusion, services to rural communities, and how public libraries have altered their services in the wake of COVID-19. Real is also an active researcher on film archives, and his recent efforts in this area have involved working with the Association of Moving Image Archives to develop strategies to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the audio-visual archives field.
Beth St. Jean
Beth St. Jean is an Associate Professor in the College of Information Studies. She holds a PhD and an MS in Information from the University of Michigan School of Information. Beth’s research aims to improve people’s long-term health outlooks by exploring the important interrelationships between their health-related information behaviors, their health literacy, their health-related self-efficacy, and their health behaviors. Her most current research focuses on the concept of health justice, particularly aiming to identify the information-related causes of, and potential solutions to, health disparities.