More and more public libraries are committed to supporting healthy living. The Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, states that is is committed “to offer free, accessible cooking, physical activity, gardening and mindfulness programming at neighborhood libraries.” Let’s Move in Libraries exists to help public libraries make and keep these commitments by helping librarians discover new program ideas, sharing stories of success, and inspiring new community partnerships, like the one the Free Library of Philadelphia has with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. Let’s get healthy, together!

Let’s Move in Libraries project focuses on supporting healthy living in public libraries. The project was inspired by Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which focused on increasing Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) among Americans. Mrs. Obama worked to increase physical activity through museums. We continue her legacy by working to increase physical activity through libraries in the U.S., Canada, and other places in the world.

Glossary of key terminology in Let’s Move in Libraries

Here are some terms that inspire us and we hope inspire you to consider healthy living at your library!

Health – In May 2017 a team of public health researchers defined health as, “physical and mental health status and well-being, distinguished from health care.”[i] Public health policy increasingly highlights the disconnect between what we spend on healthcare versus what actually improves our health. The figure on the right derives from data collected by the New England Healthcare Institute.[ii] Based on this definition, interventions often now prioritize changes to our environments and to our behaviors, as well as access to healthcare, striving to find balance among the myriad factors that together shape population health.

Health Equity A central hypothesis undergirding this project is that HEAL programs in public libraries may increase health equity, which in turn relates to the IMLS strategic goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. The concepts of “diversity” and “health equity” are in fact frequently conjoined. The CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity defines health equity as “when everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”[iii] Efforts to improve health equity focus on interventions designed to increase access to opportunities to be healthy in the spaces where we work, live, learn, and play. The CDC report Strategies for Reducing Health Disparities showcases how “public health professionals and community workers design and implement strategies for reducing health disparities” by working together on public programs.[iv]

HEAL – In a study of public health interventions in 49 communities, researchers defined HEAL as “community partnerships to promote healthy eating and active living.”[v] A report on the growth of this trend finds that with “the launch of the Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership [in Fall 2005], local funders shifted toward funding place-based initiatives that addressed complex, multi-faceted issues.”[vi] This idea has since been incorporated into policy documents, including the National After School Association’s Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines,[vii] but has not yet been used explicitly in library policy or research. Nevertheless, the concept of HEAL has already found its way, at least implicitly, into public library practice. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation reported how in Bristol, CT, librarians “introduced exercise, mindfulness and creative food preparation activities to lunchtime” served at the library during summer months.[viii] In the small town of La Cygne, Kansas, librarian Janet Reynolds “didn’t want to just be a [summer] ‘feeding’ station; [she] wanted to tie library programming to lunch.”[ix] She did so by partnering with a retired P.E. teacher, who offered Fitness Thursdays on the library lawn. The central idea of HEAL, as a public health concept, is that supporting health equity requires supporting the cornerstones of healthy living: How we move and what we eat.

Multi-sectoral collaborations – A foundational idea in modern public health is that health equity emerges from multiple sectors working together. Already, some have included public libraries in their collaborations. Writing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, McGladrey et al. report on a “multisectoral approach” to rural physical activity promotion in Clinton County, Kentucky, concluding that the local public library has been an ideal stakeholder and partner in such coalitions.[x] Similarly, in Memphis, TN, the Memphis FitKids project integrated the public library into its multi-sector network, finding it to be a key partner in the endeavor.[xi]

[i] Braveman, P et al. 2017. What is Health Equity?: And What Difference Does a Definition Make? https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2017/05/what-is-health-equity-.html.

[ii] Bipartisan Policy Institute. 2012. What Makes Us Healthy vs. What We Spend on Being Healthy. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/what-makes-us-healthy-vs-what-we-spend-on-being-healthy/.

[iii] CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. 2016. Strategies for Reducing Health Disparities. https://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/strategies2016/index.html.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Brennan, Laura K., et al. 2015. “Systems thinking in 49 communities related to healthy eating, active living, and childhood obesity.” Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 21: S55-S69. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000248

[vi] Healthy Places by Design. 2014. Growing a Movement: Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Final Report. https://healthyplacesbydesign.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Growing-a-Movement.pdf.

[vii] National After School Association. 2015. HEPA (Healthy Eating, Physical Activity) Standards. https://naaweb.org/images/NAA_HEPA_Standards_new_look_2015.pdf.

[viii] Toner, V. 2018. “Lunch & Literacy: A Library’s Tale of Curbing Summer Hunger” Alliance for a Healthier Generation. https://www.healthiergeneration.org/articles/lunch-literacy-a-librarys-tale-of-curbing-summer-hunger.

[ix] Reynolds, J. 2018. “More Than Summer Lunches–Social, Cultural, and Healthy Connections.” Big Talk from Small Libraries: 2018. http://nlcblogs.nebraska.gov/bigtalk/previous-conferences/2018-presentations/more-than-summer-lunches-social-cultural-and-healthy-connections/; Reynolds, J. 2020. “Fitness, Food, & Fun with Seniors (citizens that is)!” Big Talk from Small Libraries: 2020. http://nlcblogs.nebraska.gov/bigtalk/schedule/.

[x] McGladrey, M, et al. 2019. “Extension as a Backbone Support Organization for Physical Activity Promotion: A Collective Impact Case Study From Rural Kentucky.” Journal of Physical Activity and Health 1.aop: 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2018-0552.

[xi] Ullmann, G, et al. 2018. “Memphis FitKids: implementing a mobile-friendly web-based application to enhance parents’ participation in improving child health.” BMC public health 18.1: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5968-6.





September 2016 – Project Launch

Fall 2016 – Development of Let’s Move in Libraries Survey

Winter 2016/2017 – Interviews with North Carolina public library staff that offer movement-based programs – 39 public libraries participate

Spring 2017 – Distribution of Let’s Move in Libraries Survey – 1622 librarians responded

June 2017 – Let’s Move in Libraries Quarterly Webinar Series Began

Summer 2017 – Mapped movement-based programming in North American public libraries

Fall 2017 – First study on Yoga programs in libraries published in Journal of Library Administration

December 2017 – Survey results published in Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

Spring 2018 – Website re-development in partnership with Impact through Innovation

Spring 2018 – Blog series for ALA Public Programs Office begins

April 2018 – Interview results published in Library Quarterly

Summer 2018 – Inaugural Let’s Move in Libraries Advisory Board formed

Fall 2018 – “The Role of Public Librarians in Supporting Physical Activity” published in Advances in Library Administration and Organization

December 2018 – “Let’s Move! Fitness Programming in Public Libraries” published in Public Library Quarterly

January 2019 – Webinar organized in partnership with OCLC/Webjunction

Spring 2019 – Go4Life in Libraries and Geri-Fit in Libraries studies take place

Summer 2019 – Receive grant from he Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to study Community Health and Wellness: Small and Rural Library Practices, Perspectives and Programs

Spring 2020 – Healthy Living at the Library published by Libraries Unlimited

Summer 2020 – Expansion of Let’s Move in Libraries to include healthy eating


Lenstra, N. (2017). Movement-based programs in US and Canadian public libraries: Evidence of impacts from an exploratory survey. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice12(4), 214-232. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8166D.

Lenstra, N. (2017). Yoga at the public library: an exploratory survey of Canadian and American librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 57(7), 758-775. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2017.1360121.

Lenstra, N. (2018). The experiences of public library staff developing programs with physical activities: An exploratory study in North Carolina. The Library Quarterly, 88(2), 142-159. https://doi.org/10.1086/696580.

Lenstra, N. (2018). Let’s move! Fitness programming in public libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 37(1), 61-80. https://doi.org/10.1080/01616846.2017.1316150.

Lenstra, N. (2018). The role of public librarians in supporting physical activity. Advances in Library Administration and Organization, 39, 185-205. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0732-067120180000039012.

Lenstra, N., & D’Arpa, C. (2019). Food Justice in the Public Library: Information, Resources, and Meals. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion (IJIDI), 3(4). https://doi.org/10.33137/ijidi.v3i4.33010.

Lenstra, N., & Carlos, J. (2019). Public libraries and walkable neighborhoods. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(10), 1780. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16101780.

Lenstra, N. (2020). Healthy Living at the Library: Programs for All Ages. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO-Libraries Unlimited. (Monograph)







Let’s Move in Libraries was founded and directed by Dr. Noah Lenstra, MLS, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Lenstra contributes columns to Public Libraries Online about how to increase physical activity through libraries. His research has also been published in Library Quarterly, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, Public Library Quarterly, the Journal of Library Administration, and Mississippi Libraries.

The Let’s Move in Libraries initiative is partially overseen by an Advisory Board composed of workers in the public library sector. This Board is open to all – new members are appointed in late Spring and serve for a one year period. Join us!

Lenstra has shared his expertise on physical activity promotion in public libraries at the conferences of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children, the Association for Library and Information Science Educators, Big Talk from Small Libraries, the Charlotte (NC) Metrolina Library Association, the North Carolina Library Association, and the Azalea Coast Library Association.

The project has received financial and logistical support from Impact Through Innovation, an initiative of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s School of Education.

Contact us to invite Dr. Lenstra or a team member to your next conference, or to provide continuing education for your staff.