Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Science and Technology


Carsten Oesterlund


Case study, Consumer health information, Health misinformation, Public library, Rural public libraries, Vaccines and autism

Subject Categories

Library and Information Science


Public libraries have adapted a variety of services into their institutional missions, including: promoting early literacy, publicly available Internet access, children's summer reading programs, and the dissemination of tax forms. Libraries are disproportionately rural institutions, often serving people with limited health care access. Thus, by public demand they have evolved to become important resources for rural health consumers to acquire information. Some public libraries have approached this role by subscribing to health databases, or by providing a link on their homepage to a health resource such as MedlinePlus, but most have undertaken little organizational change to meet growing patron demand.

This body of research has attempted to understand the circumstances under which three consumer health efforts arose within or via public libraries, using two strands of inquiry to understand the process of patron health information provision. In the first strand, public libraries in rural Upstate New York were visited, observed and interviewed to understand how, and how well, health reference queries were handled. This assessment of practice was also conducted in a sample of visits in Delaware libraries. There were differing levels of staff knowledge of health information resources in all settings. In the second strand, three unique and dissimilar organizational models for consumer health information provision were studied, using institutional theory as a framework and employing a mixed methods approach.

Consumer health provision efforts in Upstate New York and Delaware appear to have interacted in contrasting ways with the affiliated MLS librarians. In particular, print materials on library shelves were the most frequent source of outdated and questionable health information; in Delaware a heavier reliance on online resources led to more instances of authoritative resource provision. In all three examples studied, the perception that medical librarians were of a different sub-culture than public librarians arose and may have created impediments to program effectiveness and sustainability. These findings have implications for library practice, training, and instruction and point to a need for further understanding of the role of public libraries and library staff in providing health information in their communities.


Open Access