Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Library Workers' Personal Beliefs about Childhood Vaccination and Vaccination Information Provision*

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Library Workers' Personal Beliefs about Childhood Vaccination and Vaccination Information Provision*

Article excerpt


The United States is seeing a growing number of parents refusing or delaying recommended childhood vaccinations, as well as a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases [1]. Some of these parents-intentional nonadherents- avoid vaccination because of concerns about vaccines' safety and a perceived low susceptibility to vaccine-preventable diseases [2, 3]. While their beliefs and attitudes may be strong, most of these parents appear to be earnestly open to both sides of the controversy and express the desire for unbiased information [4]. Other parents-unintentional nonadherents- slip offthe vaccination schedule because of a variety of logistical and socio-demographic factors. While these parents are generally aware that childhood vaccination is important, their lack of specific knowledge contributes to low vaccination rates [5]. Both categories of parents could benefit from skilled help in navigating vaccination information and understanding its sources.

While a need for health information is one reason that the public visits public libraries [6], little is known about public librarians' knowledge about childhood vaccination and vaccination information resources, as well as their practices in guiding patrons who are concerned about vaccination. In helping members of the general public navigate controversial health information, public librarians likely struggle with the same tension between neutrality and advocacy that health sciences librarians experience when dealing with the information needs of patients and their families. On the one hand, the principle of collection neutrality, expressed in the Library Bill of Rights [7], maintains that particular viewpoints should not be privileged over others and that a broad scope of views is required. On the other hand, the neutrality position has historically been a contested position, with some professional voices maintaining that there are times when librarians should be advocates [8]. This tension in vaccination information provision is the subject of this research report.

This paper presents an in-depth qualitative study of nine library workers' beliefs and attitudes about childhood vaccination, their knowledge of health information resources, and their response to a hypothetical reference scenario involving a young mother who is concerned about a possible connection between childhood vaccination and autism. In particular, the authors were interested in exploring the potential impact of personal beliefs, as well as the role of mitigating factors such as professional standards and knowledge about resources, on provision of information about vaccination. The impetus for the study was Flaherty and Luther's investigation of public librarians' responses to pseudo-patrons' questions about the connection between autism and vaccination [9].



The nine participants in this study (five white, three African American, one Hispanic; seven women, two men) worked in eight public libraries in four library systems: the District of Columbia, Montgomery County and Prince George's County (Maryland), and Fairfax County (Virginia). Eight held master of library science (MLS) degrees; one was a paraprofessional. The four systems were chosen to represent a diversity of public library branches in the area. The general region was chosen because of its proximity to the institution of one of the principal investigators.


Administrators at the four library systems collectively suggested eight libraries as representative. The eight library directors were asked to identify library workers with considerable reference responsibilities.


The library workers completed a short questionnaire and participated in one-on-one, semi-structured interviews led by an undergraduate student. The interviews included questions about common consumer health information requests, librarians' collections and preferred health information sources, and their beliefs about the role of public libraries in addressing consumer health information needs. …

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