Grant Award Funds Health Literacy Research


Dr. Lili Luo, an assistant professor with the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science (SJSU SLIS), received a $25,000 grant from the SJSU College of Applied Sciences and Arts to conduct research regarding health literacy, in partnership with Dr. Van M. Ta Park, an assistant professor from the SJSU Department of Health Science.

The one-year research project, Preparing Public Librarians to Support Health Literacy in their Communities, is aimed at addressing a growing issue facing millions of individuals – poor health literacy, which results in a range of serious consequences, including the inability to manage chronic conditions, obtain health services, and follow physician instructions.

The public library is the first resource many people consult when seeking information on health topics, and librarians can play a vital role in improving health literacy. Luo and Ta Park will take an interdisciplinary approach, as they investigate the health information needs currently addressed by public libraries, as well as the challenges encountered by public librarians when assisting consumers with health information needs.

With their findings, Luo and Ta Park hope to take the next step in their collaborative project by developing an interdisciplinary, research-based professional development program for public librarians, aimed at enabling libraries to more effectively address health literacy needs in their communities, resulting in better health outcomes. They plan to develop an affordable, easily accessible training program, with input from a range of experts, including health care professionals and medical librarians.

Nearly half of all adult Americans struggle with health literacy, making it a silent epidemic that leads to increased health care costs and poor health outcomes for millions of individuals. People with low functional health literacy have more difficulty navigating the health care system and obtaining services. They are less likely to comprehend written and oral information given to them by providers. They are also more likely to incur higher health care costs and disproportionately have poorer health outcomes than those with high levels of health literacy.

An important pathway to improved health literacy is access to high-quality and comprehensible health information, and our nation’s 9,200 public libraries are uniquely positioned to play a supporting role in this regard. They provide a no-cost, convenient way to help consumers navigate health information resources, address health information needs, and ultimately improve their health literacy. Public librarians guide consumers in locating, evaluating, and interpreting high-quality health information, supporting consumers as they make more informed health care decisions, and become more health literate.