Guest column: Libraries, no matter how small, can increase local literacy and mental health

Literacy is the ability not only to read, but to write, speak and listen in a way that promotes effective communication. Literacy skills help us accurately interpret our world and those in it. Competence in literacy can open many doors in life including those to greater education and better employment. Literacy also impacts how we manage our health and how well we understand our healthcare providers. A lack of literacy has been linked not only to poverty, but poverty’s cousin, incarceration. When an individual is not fully literate, he or she is excluded from one of our country’s most important inalienable rights — the right to vote and have a say in the direction of the country’s governance.

The Navajo Nation puts a great deal of emphasis on the need not to only graduate high school, but seek higher education as well. The Tribe grasps and promotes the idea that education leads to opportunity, which can disrupt a trend toward poverty and downward mobility.

One simple way to increase literacy is to increase the availability of materials children and adults can access and enjoy based on their varying interests. One of the best resources for just such is a library. However, on the reservation, the libraries are few and many miles in between. This is one reason why a small lending library was created in the northern Four Corners area of the Navajo Reservation. At Four Corners Regional Health Center (FCRHC) located in Red Mesa Arizona, there is a bookcase holding over 225 books available to be checked out by community members and clinic staff alike.

Four Corners Regional Health Center opened the small lending library in November 2017. Most of the books are hardcover and span a variety of topics including self-help, history, health, faith/spirituality, cooking, and even westerns. The checkout process is simple. Everyone is allowed to check out one book for 30 days. The library was created to promote reading as a healthy pastime that leads to relaxation and decreased stress. The library also promotes community outreach by being located in the Mental Health Department with the dual purpose of working to destigmatize the seeking mental health services. When community members come to check out a book, they meet and become familiar with the department and the staff who work here. The aim is to help staff and community members alike feel more comfortable asking for help with life stressors that inevitably crop up from time to time. Next time, you are at FCRHC, come “check out” the library! And if you have questions about how to start a library at your place of employment, please reach out to julie.niven@ihs.gov. Happy reading!

Julie Niven, CAPT, USPHS, Mental Health Dept., FCRHC, Red Mesa, Arizona

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