Evaluation of self-ratings for health information behaviour skills requires more heterogeneous sample, but finds that public library print collections and health information literacy of librarians needs improvement
Perryman, Carol L.
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Objective – To understand public library users’ perceptions of ability to locate, evaluate, and use health information; to identify barriers experienced in finding and using health information; and to compare self-ratings of skills to an administered instrument. Design – Mixed methods. Setting – Main library and two branches of one public library system in Florida. Subjects – 20 adult library users purposively selected from 131 voluntary respondents to a previously conducted survey (Yi, 2014) based on age range, ethnicity, gender, and educational level. Of the 20, 13 were female; 11 White, 8 Black, 1 Native American; most had attained college or graduate school education levels (9 each), with 2 having graduated from high school. 15 respondents were aged 45 or older. Methods – Intensive interviews conducted between April and May 2011 used critical incident technique to inquire about a recalled health situation. Participants responded to questions about skill self-appraisal, health situation severity, information seeking and assessment behaviour, use of information, barriers, and outcome. Responses were compared to results of the short form of the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA) test, administered to participants. Main Results – On a scale of 100, participants’ S-TOFHLA scores measured at high levels of proficiency, with 90% rating 90 points or above. Self-ratings of ability to find health information related to recalled need were ”excellent” (12 participants) or “good” (8 participants). Fourteen participants did not seek library assistance; 12 began their search on the Internet, 5 searched the library catalogue, and 3 reported going directly to the collection. Resource preferences were discussed, although no frequency descriptions were provided. 90% of participants self-rated their ability to evaluate the quality of health information as “good” or “excellent.” Participants selected authority, accuracy, and currency as the most important criteria of quality evaluation; however, other important criteria such as editorial review of content were not mentioned. Participants rated their ability to use health information as either “excellent” (17) or “good” (3). Conclusion – Use of health information enabled health behaviour change for participants, although conflicting information tended to increase anxiety. Barriers to success in all areas of inquiry include difficulties with terminology, collection limitations, asking a librarian for assistance, and lack of awareness of resources. Librarians should improve their health literacy skills in order to advise on all aspects of health information seeking, evaluation, and use. Collaborative efforts are suggested, such as special libraries and public library efforts, and health professional workshops or seminars offered to public library patrons.
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