Health Information Literacy Outreach: Improving Health Literacy and Access to Reliable Health Information Online in Rural Oxford County Maine

This resource describes efforts to improve health literacy and access to reliable information on health in rural Oxford County, ME.

Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi
Patricia Duguay
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition (RVHCC)
National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

The goal of this health information outreach project was to increase access to health information and improve health literacy in rural areas of Maine. Rural populations have particular challenges accessing reliable health information, and this project used a coalition of middle and high school teachers, adult education teachers, and local medical and public librarians to help adults young and old to learn to access and evaluate health information online.

A health information literacy curriculum was developed for the project and was piloted by teachers and librarians in local schools. The target students were young adults. The curriculum has three lessons and addresses finding health information online, evaluating its reliability, using the information to learn about one’s own health, and sharing these skills with older family or community members. The curriculum is participatory and flexible enough to meet the specific needs of a variety of levels and teaching settings. It was revised through formative research during the course of this project to incorporate the changes suggested in the evaluations.

There is a link from the article to the Curriculum Sourcebook, Health Information and the Internet: Who Can You Trust?, which includes the curriculum, evaluation materials and results, and description of the pilot study. []

The data, collected through surveys pre- and post, shows an increase in students’ confidence in their ability to evaluate Web-based health information (from 18%-48%) Furthermore, eighty percent said on the post-survey that they were both “more aware of reliable health information websites” and “more confident in [their] ability to answer health questions using the Internet.” These findings indicate that a collaborative approach, using available resources including schools, teachers and librarians, is an effective practice in improving health information literacy in rural areas.

What the experts say

This resource opens up a new avenue of research for those interested in health literacy: k-12 public schools. Literacy providers have long partnered with librarians, but not specifically upon the topic of health literacy. And it would stand to reason that if k-12 students and adults alike are educated in how to search for internet based resources and to critique their value, health information literacy and subsequent action can/will be impacted. This resource will provide replicable research in other venues, perhaps all over the U.S. and beyond.

In addition, it describes an important formative evaluation process where data collected during the pilot (from teachers and students) informed the development of the curriculum. This is an important step in using such a curriculum with any community, and it is suggested that any replication of this project includes pilot testing and adaptation of the curriculum/training. Even if the community uses the curriculum guidebook, there should be appropriate measures taken to adapt this training to the community and skills of teachers and participants.

The authors noted some useful lessons learned and some ideas to improve the project design, which could be most useful to take forward into future work. These include the importance of a well-connected coalition, adding a mini-curriculum for librarians to work one-on-one with patrons, fully supporting library partners in their outreach efforts, and ways to develop enthusiasm and support for project-based community outreach activities.

The most useful and practical part of this resource may be the Curriculum Sourcebook. It is well-organized and clear and includes the full curriculum, handouts, and a description of the formative research and evaluation results.

Methods the resource used to collect and
analyze the data for the research:
“The project utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods. A student pre- and post-evaluation was distributed by teachers and librarians to all students to capture changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors as a result of participating in the curriculum. All teachers were asked to complete a feedback form to document how they used the curriculum and any changes they made to inform the development of the final product. In addition, a story-based evaluation form adapted from Olney was developed to help students, teachers, and librarians capture how people in the community benefited from the project.10 Student pre- and post-evaluations were returned to the project team and entered into Survey Monkey for data management and analysis. Teacher feedback forms were returned and reviewed to identify needed changes to the curriculum. “