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Common Ground: A Library's Role in Improving Health Outcomes

Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System

Problem Statement

A 2008 state of Georgia report indicated significant health disparities facing its citizens. As the largest county in the state, Fulton County’s response was to take an unprecedented step in adopting a new health-based strategy for the equalization and reinvention of service provisions to improve the quality of life for its citizens. The approach, known as ‘Common Ground,’ set forth a new operating philosophy that works with each community to identify unique social determinants impacting the health of its residents. The library system recognized an integral role it could fill to both strengthen interdepartmental collaboration and enhance external partnerships to improve health outcomes.


The library system set up and maintains a library in the newly renovated and expanded North Fulton Service Center as part of the Common Ground initiative. The Center is a regional health care facility offering a comprehensive service delivery method of primary care, public health, behavioral health, dental services, workforce development, even a community garden. It tackles community health issues with a wrap-around approach. The library supports and encourages a healthier community by providing access to technology, the availability of print and virtual resources and an emphasis on emergent literacy. Giving residents a place to read, study, get career assistance, engage in children’s activities and adult computer classes plays a direct role in narrowing the gap of health disparities. Physicians, clinical staff and judges now make referrals to library services within their setting in the Center: a mother visits for prenatal care and is encouraged to visit the library for help in getting her GED or finding resources for her infant’s needs. This concept of placing a library in a public access multiuse facility represents an ongoing commitment to equitable service and building healthy communities.


The success at the North Fulton Service Center is now being duplicated at other health centers opening in the county, in order to broaden its reach and efforts to approach public health from an integrated perspective. The county, in turn, sees the library as an integral player in this initiative of addressing the social determinants of health. Since its opening in July 2010, the library has had 1,188 visits; answered 5,760 questions; issued 153 library cards; and conducted numerous computer classes and story times. The library system is in the process of recruiting a Common Ground librarian who will focus exclusively on expanding the role of the library as a public health agent.