Public Libraries for Public Health

Public Libraries for Public Health

An article, published in the journal American Journal of Public Health, staff and collaborators from the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants (NRC-RIM) highlight how public libraries serve as ideal partners for COVID-19 vaccination rollout. The article shares insight on how Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS), a public library network in Maryland, expanded its public health role during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet community needs and requests from the Prince George’s County Health Department (PGCHD).

Connecting through multiple channels

PGCMLS’s pandemic response interventions were intended to connect county residents to emergency resources and help PGCHD implement its COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures.

The efforts of PGCMLS began at the beginning of the pandemic and continued until 2022. At the start of the pandemic they published COVID-19 emergency updates through multiple channels: the library’s website, social media and flyers in curbside pickup bags.

Vaccine equity: from a hotline to hosting clinics

In early 2021, PGCMLS and its partners became aware of challenges to booking vaccine appointments. With funding through Capitol One Foundation and the PGCMLS Foundation, they proposed a program to address vaccine inequity. On April 1, 2022 the Vaccine Hunter Hotline was created to help county residents access accurate vaccine information, book appointments or preregister. This hotline was staffed by library staff and 11 part-time employees, some of whom spoke Spanish.

The hotline had high call volumes when the vaccine was only available to adults aged 65 years and older, those with health risks, and essential workers. Once the vaccine became available to the larger community the call volume decreased. However, PGCMLS saw a need to reach the areas that had lower vaccination rates.

From September 2021 to February 2022, PGCMLS hosted 25 vaccine clinics using two models: adding clinics to scheduled library events and hosting stand-alone clinics coordinated through the PGCHD, the Maryland Department of Health, and the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force. They also distributed masks and self-test kits with the surge of Omicron and cases rising.

Highlights of PGCMLS’s impact include the following:

  • PGCMLS and county partners helped to enroll 66% of county residents eligible for Affordable Care Act coverage.
  • The Vaccine Hunter Hotline helped more than 1240 county residents to secure a vaccine
  • More than 2400 vaccines resulted from the hotline and the 25 vaccine clinics
  • During the outreach phase, staff called more than 52,170 residents.
  • Most residents who secured a vaccine through the hotline were Black (44%) or Hispanic (33%).
  •  By the end of August 2021, over 77% of eligible residents had received at least one dose, including over 70% of eligible Hispanic residents.
  • PGCMLS distributed more than 120,500 KN95 masks and more than 124,300 self-test kits.

Prince George's County Public Health Department saw the results in PGCMLS' ability to connect county residents to services and continued to approach them for partnership in these efforts. However, due to limited staffing and resources the ability to host county wide efforts was not feasible long term, so they focused on certain libraries/areas in the county. 

Libraries as public health partners

The results of PGCMLS efforts in connecting county residents to health services, proves how County libraries can play an important role in public health partners.

Libraries are trusted institutions in communities to connect residents to information. PGCMLS recognized the different needs the community had as the pandemic continued, and played a vital role in connecting with the communities demands. These efforts proved public libraries can be public health partners during normal times and address the health disparities in local communities.