On July 15, 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General published the report, Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment, which declared a public health infodemic. The report includes ways to take action to “slow the spread of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.” The advisory includes guidance for specific professions to take action. While librarians were not included in the report, libraries are one of the most trusted organizations in every community and are essential partners in alleviating the infodemic and confronting health misinformation. Below are a few things that libraries can do to help address this situation.
WHAT LIBRARIANS CAN DO
Develop collections with current and scientifically accurate health information
Provide accurate, up-to-date, and scientific health information. Health books and other library materials should be weeded frequently. Weeded health materials should be discarded and not sold at library book sales.
Provide health information literacy programs and education
Host workshops on wellness and public health in collaboration with experts like health sciences librarians, health care providers, and public health professionals. Teach patrons how to critically evaluate health information including how to interpret health statistics and confirm information in multiple authoritative sources like MedlinePlus and PubMed.
Partner with public health organizations to promote health communication
Develop relationships with local public health organizations. Identify opportunities for collaboration for programs, resource sharing, research support, or health communications.
Contribute to health information equity
Identify underserved populations in your community. Create specialized book/e-book displays and programs to support DEIASJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Social Justice) and health equity. Provide research support for health professionals and public health staff.
Share health information on social media and in e-newsletters
Share social media messages from organizations like the CDC, National Institutes of Health, and state and local departments of public health. Libraries are one of the most trusted community organizations. Use this unique position to benefit public health.
Libraries of all types (public, school, academic, and special) can contribute greatly to alleviate the infodemic. As shared by the Surgeon General in the advisory: “Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.” Libraries are one of the most important community partners to build a healthy information environment.