Library’s Healthy, Wealthy and Wise program will transform the community, help library thrive, in face of many challenges

CHICAGO–The Naperville (Ill.) Public Library will soon launch Healthy, Wealthy and Wise, a yearlong initiative that aims to improve the financial and physical health of the residents of Naperville, while transforming the library into an indispensable center of unbiased health and financial information for the entire community.

“If libraries are going to survive, we need to be ingrained in the fabric of the community and be vital for every community organization,” said John Spears, executive director of the library. “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise is an excellent opportunity to re-position us as a community center:  a vital resource for the well-being of our residents and library users.”

The idea for this program came about through Alice Wood, Founder and President of Wealth Watchers ® International. Looking at long-term historical data and research, Wood noticed that personal debt levels and obesity rates have both been on a steady rise for several decades, while the rate of personal savings has rapidly declined.

“With access to unbiased information, members of the community can make better choices,” said Wood. “This is the common thread that joins issues of personal health and personal finance. The library has an important role to play in providing access to that information.”

According to circulation statistics, the two top non-fiction areas for the library are the 300s (personal finance) and 600s (health), suggesting that library users are already relying on the library for this information. Healthy, Wealthy and Wise puts a credible and marketable brand on this information, and creates other opportunities for programming and resources that tie into this theme.

Such an undertaking may seem daunting, but according to Spears, the library already has expertise in administering a similar large scale program: the summer reading program, which attracts 10,000 participants annually. “At the simplest level, this initiative follows the same format as our summer reading program activities: tracking progress, with programs supplementing the path to success, and incentives to spur engagement and learning.”

As a part of Healthy, Wealthy and Wise, throughout 2013 the Naperville Public Library will:

  • Distribute journals and pedometers to program participants to help them track their progress.
  • Offer engaging programs addressing financial issues such as savings and retirement, as well as programs that highlight health, wellness and nutritional information.
  • Promote their position as a resource for unbiased health and financial information that will help members of the community make better, more informed choices.
  • Connect members of the community with the resources and information offered by partnering organizations.
  • Aggregate information about relevant online resources as well as Healthy, Wealthy and Wise library and community events into a single library web resource and blog.
  • Help create a sense of accountability for interested participants with health care providers stationed at the library once a month to collect weight, measurements and blood pressure readings.
  • Engage school librarians from all levels–from grade school to college–with this initiative.

The most critical element of this initiative will be partnerships with community organizations, which brings together topical and professional expertise with the credibility and publicity of the library. The partnerships will be mutually beneficial: the library will have access to the resources and expertise of its partnering organizations and their staff, while the partners can promote their programs to the library community under the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise brand. Collecting and distributing this information under the library-managed Healthy, Wealthy and Wise brand also supports the library’s goal to be the hub of community resources for these two topic areas. Partners can also participate by donating services, products or funds to directly support activities of Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.

The library already has several partners on board for the first year of this initiative:

Several other community organizations have also expressed interest in participating in this initiative, including the YMCA, the Naper Settlement, the DuPage Children’s Museum, Charter One Bank and the Naperville Park District.

Measuring the outcomes of the program will be critical to determining its success, and to understand the true impact, these measurements will have to go beyond attendance head counts at programs and web traffic to the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise online resources. “We will be able to track the wellness statistics collected at the library in aggregate; in other words, we will be able to see if our participants collectively reduced their weight or blood pressure,” said Spears. “It provides us with valuable information while maintaining the privacy of each participant. We are also working with area banks to provide similar aggregate data for savings and investment activities during the 2013 calendar year.

The program kickoff will take place in January 2013, with ongoing monthly programming for the duration of the year. A major summer event will generate excitement and aim to bring in new participants, with a year-end event to celebrate the community’s progress.

With a library in almost every community, the pilot program team is optimistic about the national scalability of this program. RUSA will continue to follow Healthy, Wealthy and Wise throughout 2013 and check in with both the program administrators and the program participants about the positive personal and community-wide changes.

Questions about the program? Contact Naperville Public Library Executive Director John Spears at jspears – at – naperville-lib.org.

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