What is Health Literacy

“Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. Healthy People 2010)

Health literacy affects people’s ability to know when to go to the doctor or to the emergency room, how to fill out complicated forms, how to find a doctor, and how to take care of themselves or manage chronic disease.


The Massey Cancer Center of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Crater Health District of the Virginia Department of Health, and the Petersburg Public Library are the three primary partners for the Healthy Living and Learning Center and representatives from these agencies comprise the HLLC Leadership Team.


In 2011, the annual community health rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation were released, naming Petersburg the unhealthiest locality in Virginia.  As a step towards addressing Petersburg’s severe health issues, the Massey Cancer Center of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) asked the Crater Health District (CHD) of the Virginia Department of Health and the Petersburg Public Library (PPL) in 2012 about the possibility of creating “a central location to obtain information about cancer (chronic disease) resources and screening services.” Since people already think of libraries as places to get information, the library was a natural location for specialized health information services.

Modeled on the Health Information and Advocacy@ Your Library Program and the Community Health Education Center (CHEC) at VCU, the newly created Healthy Living and Learning Center (HLLC) began as a desk and a set of shelves at the library site on Sycamore Street and was staffed by representatives from all three partners.  In the new library on Washington Street, the HLLC has its own space for public interactions, as well as staff and storage areas.  The library also created the Wellness Activity Center in an area previously intended as a storage room. This wellness room currently serves as home to several free fitness and meditation programs that support the health of the community.

The HLLC has promoted the improvement of health literacy through resource development and the training of Consumer Health Information Specialists (CHIS). These specialists and other trained staff and volunteers provide individualized guidance to customers in the Center or through outreach efforts and health related community programming.  To date, the HLLC has been directly involved with assisting over 5000 customers.


Funding for the Center has been generously provided by The Cameron Foundation, The National Library of Medicine, Sports Backers of Richmond, the Petersburg Wellness Consortium Oral Health Engagement Project, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and the Petersburg High Options Partnership Program (PHOPs) Each of the primary partners also provides generous in-kind support.


To provide access to accurate and reliable health information to all citizens of Petersburg and the surrounding areas


To increase health literacy by providing access to tailored health information through a collaborative network of global partners


To empower community members to be proactive in their health management by providing accurate and reliable health information. Citizens of Petersburg shall have access to current and accurate health information in an environment in which they are comfortable and at a level they can easily understand


The services provided by the Center have the potential to alleviate health problems associated with low health literacy among residents

Programs and Services

The HLLC provides a consistent, familiar place where community members can go to obtain accurate and reliable health information (not health advice) and connect to local resources.  The Center is staffed with specially trained partners, volunteers, and interns trained as Consumer Health Information Specialists who can provide quality health information directly to the public both at the Center and through community outreach.

Located on the second floor of the PPL, the HLLC provides the following services:

  • One-on-one sessions with trained staff during posted operating hours
  •  Access to a CHIS trained library staff member from 9 am to 5 pm (Monday through Friday) and Center resources  during all library hours
  • Health related reference books, on-site DVDs, streaming videos, reliable websites, and brochures (many available in both English and Spanish)
  • Connections with local resources such as free health classes, screenings, support groups, and health insurance enrollment
  • Free blood pressure checks available upon request from 9 am-5 pm Monday through Friday
  • Free condoms provided by Serenity Inc.
  • Health related activities and exercise classes (Yoga, Sit and Be Fit, Caldwell’s Chair Dance, Fit It In, and Tai Chi, )
  • Outreach through its Mobile Express


Program Coordinator

  • Robert Noriega, MS; Program Coordinator, Healthy Living and Learning Center: Mr. Noriega has many years of experience in government, private sector, and non profit organizations. His areas of expertise include program planning and management, wellness programs and minority health.

Leadership Team – representatives of the 3 primary partners.

  • Wayne Crocker, MLS; Director, Petersburg Public Library System: Mr. Crocker has over 35 years of service in the public library system. In 2011, he was named Outstanding Public Library Director by the Virginia Public Library Directors Association.
  • Dana Cragg, MLS; Adult Services Librarian, Petersburg Library System: Ms. Cragg has 18 years of experience in library information services, including 13 years with the Petersburg Public Library.  She received Community Health Information Specialist certification in 2013.
  • Debbie Cadet, PhD, MSW; Clinical Research Recruitment Liaison, VCU Massey Cancer Center: Dr. Cadet has many years of clinical experience as a clinical social worker at VCU. Her research expertise is in qualitative methods of research including content and narrative analysis of interview data.
  • Rachel Hunley, TTS; Community Health Educator, VCU Massey Cancer Center: Ms. Hunley has received training in public health, cultural competency, program development, facilitation and evaluation.  She is skilled in tobacco cessation interventions, and has designed cessation training and referral protocols. Ms. Hunley has experience developing and conducting focus groups, educational interviews, semi-structured interviews, assessing community needs and recruiting for risk assessment surveys.
  • Tiffany Cox, MPH, CPH; Community Health and Prevention Supervisor, Public Information Officer, Crater Health District: Ms. Cox is responsible for coordinating programs, funding and other initiatives to promote health and prevent disease, as well as fostering community partnerships.
  • Bianca Fermin; Marketing/Program Specialist, Petersburg Public Library System