Evolving from public health libraries as a place to focus on public health librarian expertise





Public health, Academic libraries, Library spaces, Branch libraries, Health departments, Public health librarianship


Objective: This article describes the evolution of academic public health library services from standalone academic public health libraries in 2004 to centralized services by 2021.

Methods: Five public health libraries serving public health graduate programs (SPH) at public and private institutions were visited in 2006-07. Visits comprised tours, semi-structured interviews with librarians and local health department staff, and collecting of contemporary print documents. We compiled and compared visit notes across libraries. In 2022, we reviewed online materials announcing library closure or transition for timing and how services were to be subsequently provided.

Results: Libraries and SPH were co-located and most librarians maintained public health expertise though they did not have faculty appointments in their SPHs. Specialized statistical and geographic information systems (GIS) software and data were provided in partnership, often with other system libraries. Only two libraries had strong connections to health departments–one with direct service agreements and another engaged in public health training.

Conclusion: Academic public health libraries’ relationships with SPH and health departments did not ensure their existence as standalone entities. Following a national trend for branch libraries, public health information services were centralized into larger health or science libraries. The scope and specialization of librarian expertise continues to be valued with several institutions having librarians dedicated to public health.


Herman FE. Symposium on types of medical libraries. VIII. The public health library. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1955 Apr;43(2):212-6.

Alpi KM. State health department web sites: rich resources for consumer health information. J Consum Health Internet. 2005;9(1):33-44.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information needs and uses of the public health workforce--Washington, 1997-1998. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2000 Feb 18;49(6):118-20.

Lee P, Giuse NB, Sathe NA. Benchmarking information needs and use in the Tennessee public health community. J Med Libr Assoc. 2003 Jul;91(3):322-36.

Rambo N, Zenan JS, Alpi KM, Burroughs CM, Cahn MA, Rankin J. Public Health Outreach Forum: lessons learned. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 2001 Oct;89(4):403-6.

Telleen S, Martin E. Improving information access for public health professionals. J Med Syst. 2002 Dec;26(6):529-43. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/a:1020244726109.

Walton LJ, Hasson S, Ross FV, Martin ER. Outreach to public health professionals: lessons learned from a collaborative Iowa public health project. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 2000 Apr;88(2):165-71.

Holder S, Lannon AB, eds. Difficult Decisions: Closing and Merging Academic Libraries. Chicago, IL: ALA eEditions; 2015.

Patton SA, Keogh KM. The Branch Art Library in ARL Institutions: A Longitudinal Study and Environmental Scan. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America. 2015;34(2):249-66. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/683384.

Garritano JR. Current and future status of chemistry collections and chemistry libraries at ARL institutions. Issues Sci Technol Librariansh. 2007 (50):7. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5062/F4222RQP.

David A. Kronick and Charles W. Sargent Visiting Fellowship [Internet]. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association; 2022 [cited 8 May 2023]. https://www.mlanet.org/page/david-a.-kronick-traveling-fellowship.

Sewell Travel Award for Public Health (STAPH) Committee. Sewell Stipend to attend the APHA Annual Meeting [Internet]. Google Sites; 2023 [cited 8 May 2023]. https://sites.google.com/view/sewellstipend/home.

Allee N, Savage DC. Critical engagement: the merging of public health information resources. Libr Hi Tech. 1998;16(1):84-90. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/07378839810303442.

Harrison MI. Diagnosing Organizations: Methods, Models, and Processes. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2005.

Dudden RF, Corcoran K, Kaplan J, Magouirk J, Rand DC, Smith BT. The Medical Library Association Benchmarking Network: development and implementation. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006 Apr;94(2):107-17.

Allee NJ, Blumenthal J, Jordan K, Lalla N, Lauseng D, Rana G, Saylor K, Song J. One institution's experience in transforming the health sciences library of the future. Med Ref Serv Q. 2014;33(1):1-16. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02763869.2014.866444.

Del Biondo K. Analysis of liaison librarian visibility on school of public health websites: a case study approach examining Yale School of Public Health and peer institutions. Doody's Core Titles Featured Articles [Internet]. 13 December. 2022 [cited 8 May 2023]. https://www.doody.com/dct/PublicFeaturedArticle.asp?SiteContentID=441.

Hesson D. Email to: Kristine M. Alpi. 2006 Apr 23.

Le ML. Information needs of public health students. Health Info Libr J. 2014 Dec;31(4):274-92. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/hir.12082.

Becher M. Factors impacting library visibility on academic institution home pages. J Acad Librariansh. 2015;41(5):621-8. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.06.019.

Harpel-Burk P. Medium-sized universities connect to their libraries: links on university home pages and user group pages. Inf Technol Libr. 2006;25(1):12-23. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.6017/ital.v25i1.3325.

Simpson J. The heart of the university: library link location on doctoral granting institutions webpages and correlation with research output. J Acad Librariansh. 2016;42(5):503-8. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2016.06.011.

Thomas SL. Medical school home page library links: what has changed since 2010. Med Ref Serv Q. 2019 Jul-Sep;38(3):228-35. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02763869.2019.1623613.

Ira V. Hiscock Library & Academic Computing [Internet]. 2012 [cited 11 May 2023]. https://web.archive.org/web/20120209015211/http://phlibrary.medicine.yale.edu/.

Del Biondo K. Communicating the value of the medical library early and often at a School of Public Health. In: 2022 Medical Library Association Annual Meeting. [Internet]. Zenodo; 2022 [cited 11 May 2023]. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7087647.

Alpi KM, Adams MG. Mapping the literature of public health and community nursing. J Med Libr Assoc. 2007 Jan;95(1):e6-9.

Rethlefsen ML, Aldrich AM. Environmental health citation patterns: mapping the literature 2008-2010. J Med Libr Assoc. 2013 Jan;101(1):47-54. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3163/1536-5050.101.1.008.

Rethlefsen ML, Livinski AA. Infectious diseases citation patterns: mapping the literature 2008-2010. J Med Libr Assoc. 2013 Jan;101(1):55-62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3163/1536-5050.101.1.009.

Rethlefsen ML, Wallis LC. Public health citation patterns: an analysis of the American Journal of Public Health, 2003-2005. J Med Libr Assoc. 2007 Oct;95(4):408-15. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3163/1536-5050.95.4.408.

Public Health Digital Library members [Internet]. Network of the National Library of Medicine; 2021 [cited 11 May 2023]. https://nnlm.gov/membership/phdl.

Public Health/Health Administration Caucus [Internet]. MLANET: Medical Library Association; 2023 [cited 14 Dec 2023]. https://www.mlanet.org/p/cm/ld/fid=529.


Additional Files





Original Investigation