How your library may be missing a great advocacy opportunity

Earlier this week, I met with representatives of WebJunction and ZeroDivide to discuss how public libraries both in California and around the nation are responding to the element of the Affordable Care Act that legislates the initial enrollment period in health insurance marketplaces. Among the details we learned from each other is that the California library pattern, to date, mirrors the national one: there has been a clear tendency to leave the heavy lifting of informing communities about registration to non-library agencies. A majority of public libraries with developed reference services have, to date, opted for a passive role, awaiting formulated questions related to health insurance–including registration, but extending to health insurance literacy–to be addressed to staff at a reference desk.

Popular media reports about registration (national television as well as regional California news sites) have, overwhelmingly, reported on the national online insurance exchange and its myriad problems. Even sophisticated news consumers, including librarians, express surprise to learn that not only has California’s exchange (which is not limited to online registration) been significantly trouble free in matters of technology, but that state law and regulations don’t mirror President Obama’s rollback of the due date for demonstrated coverage. If sophisticated news consumers have missed these facts, how can we presume that communities don’t need active information leadership from their public libraries?

No, we aren’t men (or women) in uniform, but there is a similarity here between our stand-back approach and that of the old fashioned fire department, where the long gaps between extingishing fires held no other publicly visible duties and tasks. Now we see fire fighters providing safety education sessions, evaluating community members’ ready access to emergency equipment and responses, and working with other agencies–police, schools, businesses, and, yes, libraries–to effect better community safety practices. And, with the registration and health insurance exchange, we as information and referral facilitiators, are perfectly tuned to effect better community health practices. Let’s not sit back and wait for invitations to perform a concert.

Then there is the somewhat cynical angle: here we have a golden opportunity to build our advocacy forces by showing how our services make a difference between ignorance and confusion and our infusion of clarity, fact and culturally competent communication.

Here are some places to find more details: