“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
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: