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Meeting the health information needs of diverse communities is a challenge for librarians. Libraries of many types have a duty to identify and maintain contact with constituents having a variety of health information needs. Assessing community needs includes identifying specific population groups, the languages that they speak, the health issues affecting their lives, and their preferred methods of obtaining information. Locating, acquiring, and disseminating materials that address relevant health issues in an accessible manner takes commitment, funding, and a variety of collection development techniques. Library efforts have improved access to health information for diverse communities, but significant barriers to accessing health information remain. Reaching communities effectively includes community outreach via programming and partnering with community-based organizations and local health care agencies. By assisting information creators and health care providers in understanding how materials are being used and what materials need to be developed, library staff can play an important role in promoting the development of culturally and linguistically appropriate health information.
Libraries worldwide are dedicated to meeting the information needs of the populations they serve. Meeting the health information needs of diverse populations is challenging for many reasons. Individual health information is intrinsically intimate and personal, time frames may be short, and there may be many different "answers" to the question being expressed. Libraries of many types have a duty to identify and maintain contact with constituents having a variety of health information needs. Once information needs that impact the community's health are identified, relevant information can be located and made available. Library efforts have improved access to health information for diverse communities, but significant barriers to accessing health information still need to be addressed. Library staff can play an important role in assisting information creators and health care providers to understand how materials are being used and what materials need to be developed.
IDENTIFYING AND DEFINING COMMUNITIES
Public and academic institutions define and reach out to their communities in many ways. Depending on the situation, the library may or may not already be viewed as part of the user community's resources. What does it take to demonstrate a commitment to stowing diverse populations? Is there a palette of collections and services that must be offered, or is it in the eye of the beholder that the community decides whether the library is committed to fulfilling its needs?
In order to identify the communities, they first need to be defined. It is interesting to compare the institutional definition with how the community defines itself. There are many characteristics according to which a community can be defined:
* Sexual orientation
* Other characteristic(s)
Language information can be gathered in a variety of ways. First, note the languages that library patrons and neighborhood residents speak. Are people or organizations asking for books or other materials in specific languages? Which language do people list as their primary language on their library card application? If the library does not track this information, there are other ways to learn about the population. Look at the census data for the city or county. Go to www.census.gov and use the American Fact Finder to get maps and statistics. Information concerning the language spoken at home, ability to speak English, and nativity and citizenship for residents is available in tables. Data from local school districts about the number of students with limited English and their primary languages may also be available via local or state Web sites.
Geographic characteristics can be fairly broad or very narrow. Areas circumscribed by political boundaries such as counties, congressional districts, and census tracts are easier to define but may not be meaningful to residents. In New York City, for example, much of the data is presented by United Hospital Fund zip code aggregations. These do not necessarily correspond to neighborhoods as defined by those who live there. As many health disparities are described as taking place in socioeconomic clusters, the type of housing in which people live also creates a community. The health concerns of those living in a housing project are different than those living in a single-family brownstone in the same zip code. The information needs of the homeless also need to be addressed.
Health status by race has been described intensively in the literature on health disparities. Many large data sources collect data by race but not by ethnicity, country of origin, or language spoken. As a result, racial categories are used as a proxy for other things. The multiracial nature of …