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Health Information Project : Mid-Hudson Library System
The Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS), one of 23 public library systems in New York State, is a cooperative organization that acts to ensure the public's right of free access to information, to facilitate economical resource sharing, and to promote professional library services. The System works in partnership with 66 independent public and free association libraries with a total chartered population of 598,553 in the 3,000 square mile service area of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Putnam and Ulster Counties. The MHLS chartered population is served by 340+ member library staff, 600+ member library trustees, and 35 active Friends groups. System staff include 30 employees with an operating budget of approximately $2.1 million.
The Health Information Project, celebrating its 10th year as a designated community-based prevention provider is funded by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to conduct a summer Teen Intern Program and to supply materials that focus on teen health and social issues and substance abuse prevention through the public libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System. The Project supports the OASAS-endorsed Risk and Protection Factor Prevention Framework, addressing the reduction of individual, family, school and community risk factors, and enhancing positive factors that buffer youth from unhealthy behaviors.
The Project's resources address areas of concern to teens, their families, educators and agencies serving youth. These materials are in a variety of formats: DVDs/videos, fiction and nonfiction books and website links. Topics cover abroad range of issues, including alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, body image/eating disorders, decision making/conflict resolution, disease prevention, interpersonal relationships/peer pressure, nutrition, parenting, pregnancy, refusal skills, self-esteem, sexual identity and behavior, and violence prevention.
An essential aspect of the Project involves the selection of materials: all videos and websites and designated books are teen-reviewed and teen-recommended. Through the summer Teen Intern Program, administered at five of the library Health Information Centers, 30 teens receive training in media literacy skills and video/web site evaluation procedures. They are employed for 10 weeks to review a collection of materials. For example, in the summer of 2007, interns reviewed 64 videos, 45 websites and 16 books. Project staff use the teen evaluations to rank and purchase videos for circulation and to determine links to the Project website. Starting in 2006, the Project also began featuring the implementation of a research-based, SAMHSA model prevention program in one of the libraries, a unique undertaking within a library setting.
Materials selected from the Teen Intern program are housed in 17 library Centers located in the five counties served by the System. These area library centers are promoted as key sources for expanding community education and awareness and strengthening individual communities. Through the Mid-Hudson Library System's online catalog, materials are easily circulated to all 66 member libraries. Project materials are also available to the public throughout New York State and elsewhere via interlibrary loan.
The Project has developed and maintains a website to promote Project awareness and facilitate use of materials. Outreach efforts include mailings of new materials listings to area health educators and youth agencies, exhibits/presentations at regional conferences (Coordinator presented at this year's NYLA School Library Media Section conference), presentations to interagency meetings and school library system councils, informational visits to youth organizations, and regular press and online announcements of Project activities and new materials.
In addition to supplying communities with recommended health and prevention materials, key to the Project is the personal benefit the Teen Interns derive from their experience. They acquire knowledge in the areas of substance abuse prevention and basic life skills, including refusal strategies, competency in working independently and decision-making skills. They further enhance their communication skills through presenting program information to their peers at area schools in the fall. The interns also gain familiarity with library procedures and find a comfortable community within the library setting.
Needs assessment for the Health Information Project is addressed on several platforms due to its role within the library system and its role as a NYS youth prevention provider that receives funds through the Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene.
Assessed needs within the library system:
Assessed needs within the community of educator and agency 1ibrary patrons:
Assessed needs within the Southern Dutchess County region:
Response to needs:
During the ten years that the Health Information Project has been operating, it has provided a strong supportive framework of teen services to 17 System libraries, helping meet the need to reach to this age group. It has helped these library Centers establish a core collection of health and wellness information in teen-friendly formats that are appealing and accessible and that focus on a wide variety of topics, in particular those that have been identified by surveys as subject need areas. By purchasing materials that are teen-reviewed and recommended, the holdings have more credibility for their intended audience. Though housed in the 17 Centers, all materials circulate system-wide, providing a use benefit for all our library members and, with interlibrary loan, for those beyond our service area. In addition, the list can be used as a bibliographic tool for individual library collection development.
Implementation of the Teen Intern Program has helped attract a teen presence that many libraries had never had and could now subsequently build on. It has helped the libraries feel success with their new service for teens by starting with a small, focused group. And, it has been a stepping-off point for expansion of services. For example, after becoming established as a Project Health Information Center, the LaGrange Association Library started a Teen Advisory group using some of their past teen interns as key members.
Lastly, the Health Information Project has provided strategies as well as a direct means for library Centers to form collaborations within their communities at large. The Project facilitates the planning of the interns' fall peer presentations at local middle or high schools. For many Centers, this was the first time such a foray into an upper level school had taken place. For example, at the first Kent Public Library peer presentation, there was such anxiety on the part of the children's librarian that the Project Coordinator was asked to assist. The result was a positive one that has continued: the classroom teacher found out about materials that he didn't know were available (he's now a frequent user of Project items as are other teachers from the school); the students found out about new materials and they also learned of a possible summer job (applicants for the library internship far exceeded positions after that first year); and the librarian was encouraged to pursue additional school contacts. In addition to assisting with the need to establish library to school associations, the Project has also assisted the libraries in becoming more visible, active community members. After the formation of the Southern Dutchess County coalition, the Project funded the Howland Public Library with the understanding that the library would become an active coalition member. The community room was made available for monthly meetings and, now, the Beacon library has a more integral part in coordinating local youth events.
One of the major challenges met was that the Project has been able to develop resources that benefit all libraries and patrons throughout the System with a modest amount of money. These are more directed resources that many libraries might not consider purchasing with their limited budgets, but ones that fill an important need. The easy ordering ability of items through the catalog and the coordinated MHLS delivery are key to the success of this materials sharing.
Another challenge resulted from the long-term of funding that the Project's the initial 5 libraries had continued to receive. The challenge here was to enable the other libraries in the System to gain an active role in the use of Project resources. The Project initiated several actions in response:
- Centers are now funded on a 3-year rotating basis, thus allowing more libraries to participate.
- A monthly health observances page was added to the Project website, and regular announcements on the MHLS listserv and in the Bulletin announce the initiatives taking place and ways to use them as promotional tools.
- A page listing useful health sites for all ages, including HOMEaccess, was developed to broaden the scope of the Project offerings.
- Promotional materials were developed (see attachments) to be available to all System libraries.
Together with these two challenges, facilitating communication between the library centers and the schools and local agencies was difficult to initiate. Project staff would attend county agency meetings, make presentations for educators and agencies and send mass mailings about Project offerings, but the libraries were not integrally involved in these activities. This was resolved by encouraging a more active role on the part of the libraries. Now, the Project staff and the library staff attend many of the coalition meetings together. The librarian has become a visible face to those prospective library users. Also, educators and agency providers needed more streamlined access to materials. Development of the Project website facilitates this process, and the recent System-wide policy of cards issued at any library along with the online catalog's Request-a-Title feature have streamlined the loan procedure.
Project evaluative outcome data is gathered both internally and externally. Internal evaluations are conducted within all Project areas: the Teen Intern Program, Peer Presentations and patron use of materials. Evaluative feedback from the Teen Intern Program indicates consistent improvement in media literacy skills, prosocial involvement strategies and acquired prevention information. The 2007 self-evaluations indicate a 28% change in perceived abilities. Subjective evaluation comments are very encouraging, as they show to what a great extent the interns themselves became part of the prevention process: "I feel that this program has shown me ways to get out of negative situations." "I gained a lot of insight about health problems such as addiction and alcoholism; I believe I gained the skills needed to help pass information along." "I feel more confidence and courage in myself." Peer presentation evaluations and user evaluation of project materials have consistently shown approval ratings in excess of 65% Project targets. In 2007, the overall approval rating of peer presentations was 73% and the approval average of user materials was 97%. In addition, website usage statistics and circulation figures indicate ever-increasing usage of Project information materials.
Externally, outcomes are measured by the periodic administration of the Bach Harrison L.L.C Prevention Needs Assessment Survey in the Southern Dutchess County area. Comparative data from the 2004 to the 2006 survey indicate a decline in tobacco use amongteens and in the perceived availability of drugs; a slight increase was shown in underage alcohol use and binge drinking, in the need for prosocial opportunities in the community, and for positive peer interaction. This information reinforces the critical role that library services, in particular, programs and prevention information, can play in a concerted community effort to promote healthy behaviors among teens. Libraries are positioned to provide many benefits for positive youth development when they offer a welcoming environment with resources and programs that are meaningful to their audience.
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