A STUDY has revealed that 43 per cent of working-age adults will struggle to understand instructions to calculate the dosage of paracetamol for a child. The danger of overdosing on common medicines is a risk linked to poor health literacy. It sits at the severe end of a wide range of impacts, from preventing illness to treating disease and injury.

Health literacy is our capability to find, understand and use information to inform decisions about health and wellbeing for ourselves or people we care for. Being health literate means being able to make informed decisions about the treatment path to follow for life-threatening diseases such as cancer; how to manage long-term conditions like asthma and diabetes; and knowing how diet and exercise can prevent illness and improve health and wellbeing.

The importance of supporting a health-literate nation has been recognised at the highest levels, with Scottish Government policies such as Making It Easier: A Health Literacy Action Plan for Scotland, committing to improving health information and promoting self-management to give people more control over health-care decisions.

The role public libraries play in supporting individuals and carers with health information needs has often gone unnoticed. Yet it can be life-changing. There has been a shift in thinking, with recognition of the value libraries offer, and how integral they are to the delivery of national policies. The action plan highlights the need to work with libraries to link people to useful sources of health and care information and to develop accessible resources that better meet people’s needs.

Public libraries are ideally placed to support the promotion of health and wellbeing, given their position at the heart of communities as a safe, free and non-judgmental space. Also, professional librarians curate information.With an ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term conditions, the health sector needs new and innovative practices to help people protect and manage their health. Cross-sector collaborations and partnerships are considered a vital part of a sustainable health service.

Public libraries, working with health information services and charities, are helping to promote health and wellbeing, improve health literacy, prevent ill health, address inequalities and facilitate self-management through up-to-date and relevant information.

Professionals from the public library, health and charity sectors met at an event recently to discuss forming more partnerships to spread best practice. Delegates heard details of innovative health projects being delivered in libraries. The Macmillan Cancer @ Glasgow Libraries initiative is probably one of the highest profile library partnerships, offering thousands of people affected by cancer information, emotional support and access to other services.

The Dementia Memory Boxes project at ANGUSalive helps people with dementia retain or reconnect cherished memories by providing boxes filled with photos and other items. It is one of several ground-breaking initiatives in libraries to support people with dementia. Another successful project is Braw Blether at Midlothian Libraries, designed to tackle social isolation by encouraging people to engage using books, stories and poems.

There is an appetite for libraries and librarians to take on a bigger and more active role in linking people to health and care information. By working together with other sectors, we will bring together new ideas, partnerships and strategies to ensure that more communities can benefit from improved health through better information.