« Back to Health, Wellness & Safety

Healthy Partnerships

Ottawa Public Library

Innovation Summary

By combining the promotion of literacy and wellness in joint initiatives supporting parents and children at the baby, toddler and school age stages of development Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Public Library are ensuring healthy children who can thrive physically and intellectually.

Problem Statement

Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Public Library have jointly developed key initiatives to combine the promotion of early literacy and wellness to parents throughout the community. Both organizations recognize literacy as one of the key social determinants of health.


Ottawa Public Health and OPL partner to provide literacy and wellness support. These initiatives include pre-natal support and special programs aimed at parents and children right from birth. These programs promote the health benefits of early and lifelong literacy, and ensure that this is a sustained focus throughout the life of the child. To support expecting parents Prenatal Xpress kits are available. They couple public health prenatal information and DVD’s with resources lists from the library for expecting parents who are not able to take a formal prenatal course. Within the first week of a child’s life the “123 Read with Me” literacy initiative delivers book bags filled with literacy information to all families of newborns in the Ottawa community as part of public health nurses’ home visits. Support for newborns and their parents is further extended in 2012 with the Baby Express project, where weekly baby drop in clinics are housed in branches of the library. Library staff are available at the drop-ins to promote early literacy with parents of newborn children and to provide reference materials on topics like breastfeeding and child development. In 2011 Public Health and the public library partnered to create a week of toddlertimes , for children 18 – 24 months , themed around healthy eating. Each of the toddlertimes used Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” as the basis for programming about healthy eating. On hand at each program was a public health nurse or dietician to answer parents health related questions. To continue the support for literacy through the school age years, Public Health has funded the annual summer reading program in our small rural branches and provided the staffing to make outreach available to camps, day care and programs in city facilities in the most disadvantaged areas of the city.


123 read with me infant literacy kits have been in operation since the year 2000. This program reaches between 5,000 and 8,000 children yearly. Both library staff and public health nurses report that the kits are great tools to engage parents in conversation about the importance of reading and language for very young children. In 2011 the summer reading club reached children in 10 rural branches and 14 rural day camp and child care centres and 13 inner city programs in high needs areas of the city. These programs reach out to underserved communities that do not have easy access to library programs. The twenty- four Healthy eating toddlertimes reached more than 480 toddlers and their parents. Both library and public health staff reported that parents were pleased at the partnership and the ability to speak directly to public health staff about their health concerns.