An information board in the Pulaski County Public Library has much material about health. (Photo by Sarah Baird for Stateline)
Libraries in rural Kentucky are becoming a key partner in helping small-town residents learn about health and nutrition and maintain a healthier lifestyle, Sarah Baird reports for Stateline, a national publication of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Libraries offer everything from free healthy-cooking and Zumba classes to seminars on how to prevent diabetes or administer Narcan, the overdose-reversal drug. In Somerset, the Pulaski County Public Library offers a nutrition class with a registered dietitian and will soon offer chair yoga. In the nearby London, the Laurel County Public Library works with a local hospital to offer learning lunches, “an event that pairs a free box lunch with an hour-long lesson on a relevant health topic, from migraines to sepsis. The lunches, launched in 2014, see attendance as high as 40 people. Topics planned for 2020 run from urology to shingles,” Baird reports.
Having such offerings in rural areas can make a difference, where residents are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions and drug addiction rates are high, but there are fewer medical resources. “In Eastern Kentucky, the number of primary-care physicians is 26 percent lower than the national average and 21% lower than the rest of the state, according to a 2017 report from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky,” Baird reports. “Specialty physicians are even harder to find, with 59% fewer specialists in the region than in the nation.”
Libraries can also serve as a source of information for seniors or caregivers, an important function in rural areas since thet tend to have a higher proportion of seniors, many with age-related ailments. “According to the Cornell University 2013 Disability Status Report, a third of older Kentuckians (ages 65 to 74) have some form of disability, with rural areas being particularly affected by a lack of access to proper doctors, therapies and treatment options,” Baird reports.
Rural residents may feel more comfortable coming to the library, than, say a gym, for a yoga class, especially if that person is self-conscious. “Especially in small towns, public libraries serve as a neutral ground, allowing patrons to seek out information or attend classes that they might feel uncomfortable pursuing in a more traditional setting,” Baird reports.
However, libraries sometimes lack the funds to implement public health efforts, and often lack the staff to write grants that could net them more funding, Baird reports.