Knovvmads Magazine

An interview with “Let’s Move in Libraries”

We are excited to share this interview with Noah Lenstra, leader of an initiative that has stolen our Knovvmad heart: “Let’s Move in Libraries.” More and more public libraries are committed to supporting healthy living and this is amazing. This project helps public libraries make and keep these commitments by helping librarians discover new program ideas, sharing stories of success, and inspiring new community partnerships. We hope you enjoy this interview.

What was the spark that fueled the project?

This project has its origins in conversations I had with Canadian public library director Jenn Carson in 2016. Jenn started the Yoga in the Library website based on her experience as a Yoga teacher who integrated Yoga and her practices as a librarian. Jenn and I started talking about the needs public librarians have regarding the incorporation of Yoga, specifically, and movement, more generally, into programming. As I have learned more both about this particular topic, and about public health more generally, the project’s focus expanded outward, and I would now describe Let’s Move in Libraries as focused on integrating public libraries into efforts to what public health professionals call Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL). But the initial spark was an interest in understanding the supporting the idea of physical activity as something public libraries can support and enable. 

Why develop this initiative in libraries?

As I learned more about the field of public health, I learned about multi-sectoral coalitions to address health outcomes. In that sense, it makes sense for public libraries as ubiquitous social institutions to promote health in creative ways. In October 2018, the director-general of the World Health Organization issued a press release to all corners of the world. In it, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke in no uncertain terms about the importance of all sectors of society stepping up to increase physical activity:

“We must get the world moving. Increasing physical activity is not an issue that can be solved solely by the education sector, or the transport sector: actions are needed by all sectors. Our job is to create a world that will help our children to be active and make cities easier for people to walk and cycle.”

Libraries do their part, alongside faith-based institutions, schools, parks, workplaces, etc., and in fact here in the United States there has already been a movement to support this trend in Museums: See the U.S. Institute of Museum & Library Services’ Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens webpage

What is the relationship like with the librarians?

From the beginning, this project has been created by librarians for librarians. We have an active advisory board composed of public librarians at multiple levels in the U.S. and Canada, and the initiative is based in a Department of Library and Information Science. So I would say the relationship has been great! Librarians regularly send me news on new initiatives and partnerships, and we in turn share those stories to inspire other librarians. 

How do patrons receive the program, “Let’s Move in Libraries”?

There is not one way to implement Let’s Move in Libraries, so I’m not sure if I have an easy answer to this question. But I would answer it by referring to national statistics. In the United States, A study commissioned by the American Library Association found substantially more voters said in 2018 they think libraries should provide “activities and entertainment not found elsewhere” in a community (48% versus 38%), and more think libraries should be “a place for people to gather and socialize” (45%, up from 36% in 2008). To me, this data communicates that our patrons are looking to libraries to offer “activities and entertainment not found elsewhere” such as the fun movement and health-based programming supported by Let’s Move in Libraries. 

What are the programs like that you propose to public libraries?

We have an evolving list of Program Ideas on our website. The program ideas currently focus primarily on physical activity, but based on our evolving understanding of librarian needs and interests, we are going to begin to also include food related program ideas, such as pop-up cooking classes, the distribution of seeds, introduction to knife skills, farmer’s markets, and more. In general, we try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is happening, and share program ideas based on those trends. For instance, in response to COVID-19 and library closures, we learned that public libraries were trying to engage their communities by doing programs outside. We researched this trend and wrote an article on how and why public libraries organize sidewalk obstacle courses in the context of COVID-19, with the idea that this work would inspire others. 

What future projects do “Let’s Move In Libraries” have on the horizon?

As discussed above, the main project we have on the horizon is expanding out scope to encompass HEAL: Healthy Eating and Active Living. What this will look like remains somewhat undefined. We need to learn more about what types of support librarians need as they endeavor to work with partners to support nutrition and food security. That is the major project we have on the horizon. 

On your website we can read many interesting stories, are there any special ones that you would like to share with us?

My favorite programs are those that weave together different facets of librarianship. One of favorite and most inspiring program comes from Greenfield, where the library teamed up with a local literacy project to create a downtown StoryWalk® featuring poems written by adult literacy learners: As patrons walk around downtown they read poems written by adults and posted in local shop windows. Making this example even better is that when the Greenfield Recorder covered this story in June 2019, the poems written by the adults focused on food. The headline of the article: “Literacy Project students write, choose poems for Food Poetry Walk.” What I love about this example is the way that it ticks multiple boxes: Literacy, lifelong learning, exercise, food, community engagement, community partnership. This is when the magic happens: When public libraries get in the mix and add value to efforts already underway. I tip my hat to everyone involved in this amazing initiative. 

If you could give any advice to our readers, what would it be?

Partner with public health! If you do not know the major players in your community interested in promoting public health, get started by reaching out to them. Figure out who cares about making your community a healthier, more active place, and reach out to them to see what you can do together. That is the best way for librarians to get started with this trend. 

To wrap up, can you tell us how libraries / librarians / patrons can collaborate with this project?

Sure, the best way to collaborate with Let’s Move in Libraries is to connect with us. We have a monthly newsletter with over 2,500 subscribers, and we’re active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube

The next way to collaborate is to share with us what you’re doing. We’re always seeking stories of success, particularly from outside the United States and Canada. We’ve started to create a webpage with international examples, but we’d love to have more! Reach out through the website or over email to share what you have tried to do in your library to promote HEAL: Healthy Eating and Active Living.

The final way to collaborate is to share your story at a regional library conference. We’ve worked with our advisory board members to help them present on the project at regional library conferences in Maine, Minnesota, and Georgia. 

Thank you very much for your time with us Noah! 

Dr. Noah Lenstra started Let’s Move in Libraries in 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s School of Education, where he is an assistant professor of library and information science. In June 2020, his book Healthy Living at the Library was published by Libraries Unlimited. As part of his work on this topic, he served on the Public Library Association’s Health Literacy National Advisory Board, and he currently serves on the Physical Activity Research Center’s Activating Rural America Advisory Group. He is currently working on an Institute of Museum & Library Services grant-funded project (LG-18-19-0015-19) that will answer the question “How do small and rural public libraries address health and wellness through public programs?” His research has been published in Library Quarterly, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, and the Journal of Library Administration, among others. He blogs monthly for the ALA Public Programs Office’s Programming Librarian website, and is an active member of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.