Health Literacy

What Is Health Literacy?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 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.”  HHS also points out that health literacy includes numeracy skills. Furthermore, “in addition to basic literacy skills, health literacy requires knowledge of health topics. People with limited health literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation about the body as well as the nature and causes of disease. Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and various health outcomes.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Quick Guide to Health Literacy,”


Health Literacy, Programming, and Consumer Health Information (PLA)

The intent of this initiative is to “increase public library workers’ knowledge and skills related to consumer health services. PLA and NNLM are assessing health information needs among public librarians and share free resources and professional development opportunities that will help public library staff better serve their patrons’ consumer health needs.”

Health Literacy Toolkit (ALA, NNLM)

This toolkit is part of the Libraries Transform initiative and is a partnership between PLA and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The toolkit offers “key messages, program ideas and downloadable marketing materials, including bookmarks and social media graphics, for libraries to use as they promote health literacy.”

Healthy Community Tools for Public Libraries (PLA, NNLM)

This curated collection provides links to resources, live and online training opportunities, links to NNLM regional offices & funding opportunities, and databases that provide a variety of heath related information.

Quick Guide to Health Literacy (US HHS)

This factsheet provides an excellent background to the fundamentals of health literacy.

Getting Involved

The Public Library Association (PLA) has a Health Initiative Advisory Group:

and a Health Interest Group –

Libraries are Champions of Healthy Communities (FB group) –