Health literacy is a relatively new field of research in the health sciences, but one that is increasingly gaining recognition for its previously underappreciated impact on public health and wellness. This is reflected in the evolving definitions of health literacy, which now focus not only on how people understand health information but on how they use it to make decisions about their healthcare. Newer definitions of health literacy also seek to reflect considerations regarding digital health literacy, as people increasingly access and share health information online and the increased complexity of our healthcare systems. It is clear that health literacy is a complex, multidimensional issue that requires a thoughtful multidisciplinary approach.

Health libraries have not yet systematically defined their roles within the domain of health literacy, but opportunities exist for libraries to play a substantial role in improving health literacy at a community level. They occupy a unique and trusted space within academic and clinical health settings, providing information services across the spectrum of health disciplines, contributing their expertise in evidence seeking, synthesis, and, increasingly, dissemination. Indeed, many libraries have already made substantial contributions to both the theory of health literacy and contributed to impactful interventions in this area. Libraries and the professionals working within their teams are ideally placed to contribute to research and interventions in the health literacy field.

Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, there remains a scarcity of published research on health literacy, with most of what has been published originating in the more high income countries of the region. There is also little evidence of the levels of collaborative research needed to fully explore the extent of the health literacy challenges within the region. Thus, there exists an opportunity for libraries, both academic and public, to contribute to research, particularly the larger and more valuable collaborative, evaluative studies. Libraries can also act as a hub of participatory community research, assessing needs and documenting narratives.

Regarding interventions, health libraries are well placed to assess local needs and advance community health literacy. They play a key role as a touchpoint for other disciplines across the information landscape, and within this domain could potentially coordinate a network of collaborators from health professionals, policymakers, educators, communicators, and others. They are well placed to act as a hub for evidence assessment, scholarly evidence synthesis, and science communication. Leveraging the digital advances and transformations in the methods and mediums where health information is shared should be seized by libraries as trusted providers for health information. Lastly, health libraries, in particular, should take advantage of their extensive collaborative networks to drive expansive, ambitious initiatives to shape education and interventions to improve health literacy.


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