Library Journal names East Brunswick librarian a ‘Mover and Shaker’

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EAST BRUNSWICK–East Brunswick Public Library Information Manager Karen Parry was named one of the Library Journal‘s 50 “Movers and Shakers” for its March issue.

Parry, an East Brunswick resident, has been part of the library since 2001. She was named a “Mover and Shaker” for starting the library’s “Just for the Health of It” consumer health and wellness information initiative in 2009, according to a prepared statement from the East Brunswick Library.

“I certainly am very honored to be among the 50 librarians selected in the country for this honor. Most importantly, it speaks to the quality of the EBPL. We have always been a model library that other libraries throughout the country have looked upon as an inspiration,” Parry said. “The EBPL has never hesitated to take risks by reimagining and delivering services that break the mold of a traditional library.”

According to Parry, she started the program a few years after her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

“I became, at that time, what I call a ‘patient of the internet,’ hopelessly scouring the web and looking desperately for understanding and answers. It wasn’t until I was put into this position of heartbreak that I came to understand the frustration and desperation that comes with finding reliable health information,” Parry said. “I stress the word ‘reliable’ because the internet is filled with opinions, outdated and contradictory information. About the same time, I noticed a demographic shift in the East Brunswick community.”

“Just for the Health of It” is a consumer health research service, connecting library customers with information about their medication, tips on how to improve their wellness and programs. Patrons are provided information from librarians on staff who are certified by the Medical Library Association’s Consumer Health Information Specialization Program, according to the statement.

While they do not conduct diagnoses or make healthcare recommendations, the librarians can research and provide information about healthcare topics so library customers can make informed decisions, according to the statement.

“We had many new immigrants coming to the library and our town was also getting older according to the census data. Before long a common trend emerged – many immigrants and seniors turned to the library in search of health information,” Parry said. “For example, many seniors did not know how to use a computer to understand their diagnoses or medications. Others were suffering from vision problems caused by aging, some had Parkinson’s or had suffered a stroke and they turned to the library as a safe place to find answers.”

Parry said many immigrants sought health information in their own language or wanted a librarian to help them find a doctor, preferably one who spoke their native language.

“Many people needed help finding health insurance or help understanding and signing up for the Affordable Care Act.  It was the confluence of all these factors from which ‘Just for the Health of It’ emerged,” Parry said.

With a goal of providing equal access to trustworthy health and wellness information that is culturally and linguistically appropriate, Parry put together a comprehensive outreach plan. The librarians share information at several outreach visits in the community each month, according to the statement.

“Our library staff is always developing new programs and initiatives to better serve our community,” Library Director Jennifer Podolsky said in the statement. “Our staff and Library Board of Trustees are very proud that the success of [Parry] and ‘Just for the Health of It’ has been recognized on a national level.”

The library also regularly holds workshops featuring healthcare professionals, who discuss pertinent medical topics for all ages, from infants through seniors, according to the statement.

“We consider our local physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, dentists, social services, nutritionists, senior center, [Rutgers University’s] medical and pharmacy schools and hospitals to be our partners in this mission to create a healthy community,” Parry said.

The “Just for the Health of It” program was cited as a model program by the New Jersey Hospital Association in 2017. Healthier Middlesex, a consortium between Robert Wood Johnson and Saint Peter’s University Hospital, has made public libraries part of their three-year Community Health Improvement Plan, with the goal of expanding “Just for the Health of It” throughout Middlesex and Somerset Counties, according to the statement.

Currently working with Healthier Middlesex to expand the program, Parry said, “We are envisioning a ‘Mobile Health Library On Wheels’ that would visit libraries, malls, fairs, seniors centers and social services, delivering health and wellness information in multiple formats and languages. The goal is to give everyone, no matter where they live, what language they speak, or how much money they make, fair and equal access to health information.”

Library Journal’s “Movers and Shakers” list first debuted in 2001. Parry joins 50 other librarians who have been named Movers and Shakers, according to the statement.

“Libraries are all about staying relevant and I am proud that all library directors, past and present, have embraced that vision. In particular, I thank my current [Library Director] Jennifer Podolsky who provides constant support and who never hesitates to take chances and think [about] the big picture,” Parry said.

For more information on “Just for the Health of It,” visit www.wellinks.org.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.