Health Literacy

What Is Health Literacy?

Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals are able to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. 

ALA Resources

  • Promoting Healthy Communities: A Health Information Initiative (PLA)

“Access to current and reliable health information is imperative for the well-being of all Americans, and public libraries are frequently a “go-to” resource as people navigate complex issues of health care, insurance, aging and more. A new nationwide initiative from the Public Library Association (PLA) and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) will increase public library workers’ knowledge and skills related to consumer health services.”

  • Health Literacy Toolkit (ALA, NNLM)

The toolkit provides key messages, program ideas and downloadable marketing materials, including bookmarks and social media graphics, for libraries to use as they promote health literacy during Health Literacy Month (October) and throughout the year (sign-up is required).

  • Literature for Life: Teaching Health Literacy with Picture Books and Novels

A book list for children, pre-teen, and young adult readers on connecting with a wide range of health issues.

  • Impact of Mis/Disinformation on Health Care Information Literacy (OIF)

A look at the impact of low health literacy using data gathered before and during 2019, and how librarians can contribute to their patrons’ health needs and increase their understanding of their health circumstances.

  • Healthier Communities: Libraries Improve Health Literacy, Access” (ALA Policy Perspectives)

This article lists the reasons why libraries are one of the best places for patrons to increase their health literacy, writes about what libraries are currently doing to promote health literacy, and illustrates ways to move forward as the push for health literacy increases.

This study presents the results of a health needs assessment done in collaboration between the Teen Services Department of a major urban library and faculty from a state university. Using survey and focus group data, the research team sought to uncover the most common health-related needs among community teens as perceived by teen services librarians and staff, preparedness to respond to these needs, and interventions in addressing these needs.

Government Resources

  • Introduction to Health Literacy

This is the government’s official guide to health literacy, and includes explanations of what it is, why it matters, which groups have low versus high understanding of health literacy, and ways to increase it. Also included are several links and videos to outreach efforts.

  • National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy envisions a restructuring of the ways we create and disseminate all types of health information in this country. The plan also calls us to ensure that all children graduate with health literacy skills that will help them live healthier lives. This volume sets forth thoughtful, achievable objectives and describes what is required to create and sustain a health literate nation.

  • Project SHARE

Project SHARE is a program developed by the University of Maryland Health Sciences and Human Services Library and funded by the National Library of Medicine. Project SHARE aims to build high school students’ skills to reduce health disparities at the personal, family and community level. Module II of the curriculum focuses specifically on health literacy.

  • Online Class – “Health Literacy On Demand”

The objectives of “Health Literacy on Demand” are as follows:

  1. To describe personal and organizational health literacy.
  2. To define universal precautions for health literacy.
  3. To identify 3 resources used to address health literacy.

  • Medline Plus

Medline Plus offers this guide to health literacy, which not only includes the basics of what it is, but also includes links to clinical trials, journal articles, access to what the experts are saying, and more. Link includes recent data on COVID-19.

  • Digital Health Literacy Curriculum

The Digital Health Literacy Curriculum includes explanations of digital health literacy, training resources, and resources on internet skills. Also includes resources specifically for libraries.

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ): Health Literacy

The AHRQ website holds resources on health literacy for professionals and organizations, including programs, publications, and training materials.