How to Sustain a Health & Fitness Literacy Program in Your Library

By Nicole Miller, Director of the Cannon Falls Library, Minnesota

In 2019, I earned my group fitness certification and developed a sustainable library fitness program at the Cannon Falls Library. Since then, I’ve increased my knowledge of health and fitness for older adults (my target audience) and created a popular set of programs with a group of regular students and library users. I use these classes as a platform to help people know their bodies and empower them when speaking to their healthcare providers about their health.

Let’s say you just had your first fitness class in your library. Patrons got excited and have been giving you feedback about how awesome the program was and they want more. Now what?

Since we’re all working with limited budgets, one of our foremost thoughts tends to be how to make the program sustainable and economical. Generally, most libraries don’t have it in their budgets to afford to pay a fitness professional to come to the library to teach weekly programs. And unless you’re really lucky, you won’t find a qualified fitness professional who will volunteer their time to teach weekly classes in your space. Enter nontraditional professional development.

Before doing anything else, identify your target audience. After you’ve identified your target audience, talk to them to find out what they’re interested in and what times work for them. Then act on that information.

I found that the most economical way to sustain a fitness literacy program in my library was to invest a few hundred dollars per year toward fitness certification and continuing education. Options can be as simple or as complex as you want. It could be as simple as specialized certifications for yoga teacher training, for older adults with GeriFit, ChairOne Fitness, or Walk With Ease or more broadly focused like group fitness instructor certification with organizations like ACE, AFAA, or NETA.

Once you’ve got that certification down and you have feedback from your community, put those classes on the schedule! It helps to schedule classes weekly on the same day(s) and time(s) because that helps your patrons create a habit. And while you’re working out the kinks, be open to feedback and critiques to improve your program.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of our libraries became adept at virtual programming. Use that to your advantage! Record a few workouts and upload them to your library’s YouTube channel. Then use those viewing statistics as usage statistics for your reports.

YouTube videos have become a lifeline for some participants in my library who want extra workouts during the week from someone they trust and in situations when I was sick or otherwise unable to teach a class. These videos can also be accessible if one of your patrons is homebound, but still wants to attend your classes. 

YouTube videos can also open the door to partnering with nursing homes, assisted living, and senior centers in your community. They can serve as outreach programming to those other entities, and you can arrange to occasionally teach classes in person in their facilities. Just make sure that you spend some time talking about other library programs while you’re there, too. 

There will come times when your participants will ask you about health conditions that are outside of your scope of practice. I use these times as opportunities to talk to them about some of our newer health topic books and online resources like Medline Plus and other websites managed by the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM). These are also good times to encourage talking to their doctors about a particular issue.

In our classes, we discuss a number of health related topics. On any given day, we can talk about the importance of resistance training for bone density, why particular diets aren’t the most healthful, how crossing the midline has an important link to cognition and brain health, how movement affects mental health, and more. My patrons come away from classes feeling invigorated and informed.

Developing fitness literacy programs for your library will take some time, but you’ll find that the program becomes a very rewarding and enriching experience for you and your patrons. Not only will you get the opportunity to sneak a bit of movement into your work week, but you’ll develop stronger bonds with members of your community.