Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Timely, Highly Recommended Work on Health Literacy.(The Medical Library Association Guide to Health Literacy)

The Medical Library Association guide to health literacy. Ed. by Marge Kars, Lynda M. Baker and Feleta L. Wilson. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2008. 250 pp. A$125.00 soft cover ISBN 9781856046258 (available from Inbooks)

This timely publication is likely to be of interest to a broad range of librarians, educators and health care professionals. The editors argue that to function in the health care environment, people need the ability to identify, evaluate and use information to make informed decisions, as well as basic reading and numeracy skills. Furthermore, communicative competence throughout all health care events is important for medical staff as well as people who are ill, their families and friends. Chapters explore theory, research literature and programmes for various populations with special needs; each includes a section on the role of librarians and advice on how best to work in this complex environment.

Part 1, Health Literacy: Understanding the Issues, consists of three chapters: a lucid introduction to the concept and its importance, a review of the literature focusing mainly on printed texts, and an interesting chapter entitled 'Social practices in talk as components of health literacy'. Subheadings for each chapter are included in the table of contents, marking a logical path through the theoretical and academic sections. The comprehensive lists of references would be a good starting point for higher degree work in information studies, community health and consumer health issues.

Part 2, Health Literacy Issues in Special Populations: The Influence of Culture, Ethnicity, Special Needs, and Age on Health, contains six chapters. Chapter 4 focuses on cultural competence and appropriate professional development for librarians, while the next chapter discusses the impact of low literacy on sick people and their families. Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 address in turn the special needs of people with low literacy, people with disabilities, senior citizens and teenagers. These chapters outline programmes for designated groups and offer advice for librarians based on what was learned when the programmes were implemented.

Part 3, Health Literacy Issues in Public and Hospital Libraries, is a valuable practical guide for librarians involved in reference interviews, collection development and collaboration with other consumer health information agencies. Case studies are included, some from the point of view of nurses as well as librarians. Any librarian tentative about responding to requests for health information will find the sensible, thoughtful advice from Karyn Prechtel in Chapter 10 relevant and reassuring.

Health literacy is a rapidly developing field as the self-management of diseases such as diabetes is so important for all concerned. This work is open-ended and future-oriented, looking at ways to initiate and become involved in health literacy programmes. Establishing and maintaining collaborations is emphasised, an essential way of removing some of the pressure from medical staff in busy clinics and hospitals.

This substantial text is well-organised and indexed. Examples of data-gathering instruments such as readability tests and questionnaires are included as tables which librarians could adapt for their use. The in-depth approach is supported by comprehensive reference lists and advice for librarians is based on experience. Highly recommended.

by Lyn Linning
Linning, Lyn. "Timely, highly recommended work on health literacy." The Australian Library Journal 58.3 (August 2009): 331(3).