When you need information about a health concern where do you turn — a doctor, a family member or Google, perhaps? Now consider if the advice you received was incorrect or biased or if you found little to no information at all. That’s the unsettling, and sometimes dangerous, situation many members of the LGBTQ+ community face when searching for certain health information. Vanessa Kitzie, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Information and Communications, is working to improve access to accurate and compassionate health information for marginalized communities, specifically LGBTQ+ people.
“My research focuses on the unique barriers LGBTQ+ people face when addressing their health concerns and the role libraries play in supporting this community as they access information regarding their health,” said Kitzie.
Kitzie recently traveled to public libraries in four cities across the country — Pueblo, Colorado; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Lawrence, Kansas; and, Columbia, South Carolina — to learn how information centers, such as libraries, can better serve the health needs of the LGBTQ+ community. She hosted forums, bringing together LGBTQ+ community leaders, library workers, state department representatives and other community volunteers.
“We looked for cities that were purposefully different,” said Kitzie. “Some were small, others large. Some were more conservative than others, too. We wanted to learn about a diversity of experiences. Our goal was to find ways to share vital, and sometimes life-saving, health information to a marginalized population who often struggles to find the information they need.”
LGBTQ+ participants discussed how they currently find healthcare information, on topics from sexual health to cancer to gender-affirming care.
“So much of this sharing of health information is simply word of mouth,” Kitzie said. “The need for a more organized process became clear, and that’s where the libraries come into play.”
LGBTQ+ participants collaborated with library staff and community advocates to brainstorm ways to collect, store and widely share important health information and resources.
“The forums sparked ideas, such as creating an information hub with the names of health care providers who are supportive of LGBTQ+ needs, information about monetary assistance for gender-affirming care, language translation services and more,” said Kitzie. “This hub may be digital or printed, stored at the library or online. The ideas were varied based on the individual community.”
Kitzie hopes her research leads to sustainable programs that libraries across the country can use to better provide healthcare information to marginalized groups.
“I would love to see more partnerships between LGBTQ+ community leaders, libraries and the healthcare providers so we can lessen the health disparities that exist in this population. No one should face a lack of information about their own health.”
Kitzie's research findings recently earned her professional recognition, with one of her papers about the role of public libraries in addressing health disparities, earning second place at the Association of Information Science and Technology conference. She was also nominated for the prestigious Diana Forsythe Award by the American Medical Informatics Association for her research regarding the healthcare informational practices of transgender and nonbinary people.