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OWSD NIGERIA NATIONAL CHAPTER PRESENTS Accessing Library Information Services in Public Health Emergencies

September 11, 2022

OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of PortHarcourt Branch Series of Scientific Communications: Helen U. Emasealu on Accessing Library Information Services in Public Health Emergencies

             Accessing Library Information Services in Public Health Emergencies


                                                             Helen U. Emasealu




The focus of this work is to state the relevance of information in a dynamic modern world and suggest how information can be systematised by the librarian, the professional information manager, in attending to public health emergencies.

Eulogising Information

Information activates and stimulates the human thought process. It is the key to effective decision-making for a meaningful and sustainable world order be it in the present or the future. For a society to function well, information is key. Information is so important that it can be rightly described as the breath and blood of every useful human engagement. Information has become critical and central for better communication and productivity for parents, company executives, the legal profession, the entertainment industry, the economic and political policy sphere, the world of commerce and the health sector among others. The place of information in the new dynamic world cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, information rules the world.  

Information-vulnerable Members of Society

Emasealu and Ezeonye (2022) have observed that there are information-vulnerable members of society. This group of people are exposed to the dangers of inaccurate information, which are in frequent circulation. This can come at a terrible cost for the affected individual in particular and the society at large. Public health would suffer adversely when exposed to inaccurate information or misinformation. Misinformation is that information, which is baseless, carries falsehoods, rumours, hearsays and unsubstantiated accounts emanating from the sheer imagination of the information provider.

Misinformation during public health crises, for instance, can have adverse effects because it can lead people astray by making wrong decisions that would aggravate an already existing challenge. Health Misinformation (HM) has been identified to pose disastrous effects that could be irreversible, such as death. Kolluri and Murthy (2021), see health misinformation as a serious threat to public health, that is capable of causing confusion, sowing mistrust, causing harm to people's health, and undermining public health efforts. The 2019 outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic generated widespread fear, changed the lifestyle of many and posed health emergencies. Libraries, among other social institutions, were closed down and movement was restricted in order to curtail the spread of the pandemic. The need for public health information became increasingly important in order to be updated on the progress made in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus.

People Perish for Lack of Knowledge

The biblical salvation call, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you…” (Hosea 4:6, NKJV), amplifies the importance of knowledge, bearing in mind that knowledge thrives, principally, on received useful information. An example that readily presents itself on how people can be destroyed for lack of knowledge is that of those who do not believe that COVID-19 exists simply because they are not locked in for emergency purposes. Such persons do not realize the severity of COVID-19 as it is being portrayed. This attitude is attributed to a lack of information or even worse, misinformation. The implication of this is that many would perish for lack of knowledge, knowledge being a derivative of accurate information.

Sell, Hosangadi, and Trotochaud (2020) have explained that most information circulated on social media during the Ebola pandemic in the disguise of health information was intended for politics, jokes and fear-induction among others which contained, partially, health-related information. Such information is weaponized and could lead to unwanted outcomes as they resonate differently with individual beliefs, as it is not health intended. Also, such misinformation has been cited to fuel vaccine hesitancy among the public (i.e., as witnessed with polio vaccination) and impede recovery efforts. The viral disease impacts human social life with certain changes, and adjusting well to the new realities requires accurate and timely information. For efficient and effective public response and recovery, therefore, effective communication is a deciding key factor. It is observed that fear, uncertainty, illiteracy, and information needs may increase the chances for the propagation of health misinformation. Information provision services in the library do not stop even in public health emergencies as users can utilize communication technologies to access the services. Therefore, contrary to the belief that librarians become inaccessible during health emergencies is fallacious.

The Challenge of Information Handling in the Modern World

In the 21st century, there has been an exponential rate of information creation, which is generated on a daily basis and at a very fast rate. In the same century, librarians are not the only agents of information dissemination. Others are relatives, friends, teachers, journalists, organizations such as trade associations, business firms, labour unions, professional societies, educational institutions, publications, career centres, and such internet service providers as website application providers, blogs, articles, art exhibitions and displays in the form of films and videos among others. With the myriad sources of information provision, there is a challenge in information handling in the modern world. However, whereas technology capacitates just anybody with access and the ability to disseminate such information, it may not equip everyone with the professional skill set of information sourcing, verification for authenticity, identification of information needs, and effective dissemination. This is the job of the professional librarian and herein lies the importance of the librarian.

Importance of Librarianship

In the traditional sense, the librarian is the information specialist that acquires, manages, preserves organizes and disseminates information resources for the benefit of the information end user. However, with the rapid rate of development in the information society in the recent past, the role of the librarian has become more challenging as it now includes mediator, change agent, propagator of knowledge and perhaps, most importantly, the first responders that act as the catalyst between the modern information superhighway and the information user. In a modern world characterized by a superhighway of information flow, the librarian is no longer a mere custodian of information. To underscore this point, Kwanya et al (2015) describe librarians as apo-mediators. This means that the librarian is no longer the professional who selects and acquires information resources in all formats, sits behind the desk checking identity cards, and admits users of information into the library building. Librarianship has gone beyond this.

The modern librarian has evolved to become a professional who is vastly knowledgeable about his environment and is available to offer direct professional assistance in general counselling on information handling which includes understanding information needs, identifying verified sources of information, retrieving the needed information and ensuring adequate use of information. The library is an information-neutral institution. Therefore, the library must remain a professional place for factual evidence of events in human society. In the same vein, the mantra of the library at all times must be getting the right information, at the right time, in sufficient quantity to the right persons and help distinguish between facts and myths.

It is noteworthy that in acknowledgement of the power of information, the government and the affluent owned libraries in ancient Greek and Roman societies. In present times, information is provided free of charge by librarians for information users whether in a library building or within a community. The library must, definitely, be seen as being more than a physical building with people, books and computers. The library encompasses the creation of knowledge and the dissemination of information for targeted objectives. Beyond the physical structure, the library boasts of the resourcefulness to operate remotely in promoting information access and use.

The Challenges of Effective Librarianship in Public Health Emergencies

The factors that militate against the attainment of effective librarianship in public health emergencies include rank illiteracy, abysmal ignorance, communication gaps, poor handling of information resources and lack of synergy between public health officers and librarians. It is a sad fact that human existence has always and will continue to be challenged by various viral outbreaks. The world must get ready for such future occurrences by developing strategies and disseminating useful information.

Accessing Library Information in Public Health Emergencies

In emergencies occasioned by disease outbreaks, libraries should be engaged for information needs, retrieval and use. The three approaches canvassed in order to bridge an existing gap in accessing library services in public health emergencies are as follows:

i. Know your library and librarian (reference librarian)

ii. Community collaborations (town and gown)

iii. Library subscriptions (websites and mobile applications)

Know Your Library and Librarian (Reference Librarian)

Libraries are categorized by their types, which is a determinant of the services they provide. It is important to note that the library does not segregate in the provision of services to individuals, however, the knowledge of the types is crucial in determining the appropriate library (Table 1) to seek particular information. Therefore, get user should be acquainted with the type of libraries and area of information service coverage determine, register with the library as a user, identify with the reference librarian and reference resources available, and indicate your information interest with the strategic selective dissemination of information (SSDI) service of the library. Following these steps helps the reference librarian to provide specific information of interest to individual patrons even in remote locations. Thus, reference librarians of every library operate on a round-the-clock basis to provide crucial information, especially during public health emergencies.

Table 1. Types of Library



Information Service



Academic Library

Research and academic programmes supporting information services to universities, polytechnics, monotechnic, and every other type of tertiary institution.

Academicians and researchers.


School Library

Provide information services that foster learning, and promote literacy in school children.

Secondary and primary school children.


Public Library

Provides information resources to promote literacy, and provides access to government publications and documents.



Special Library

Focuses on a specialized type of information tailored towards a particular person, object, situation, phenomenon or event. Example Petroleum.

Organizational bodies.


Further Grouping


Community/mobile library/ community information centres

This is a need-based library. It is mostly a makeshift public library usually set up to serve immediate information needs as identified in a particular area. It does not dwell on particular information service, but on situational information need. An example is mobile libraries in communities on prevailing health conditions in the location.

The population of where it is situated.



Community Collaborations (Town and Gown)

The library does not function in isolation. The users of information are the major stakeholders. The ‘town and gown’ initiative is the brainchild of intentional community development organized in universities for host communities. While libraries are limited in their scope, they provide information services aimed at societal development. This involves active participation in community development activities which over the years have included such activities as creating pathways, sanitation, health outreach, sensitization, and orientation among others. Additionally, libraries have keyed in to provide information resource centres. These centres bridge the information gaps between the universities and their host communities. Community members should leverage this to access health information that is mostly disseminated in local languages than depend on hearsay.

Library Subscriptions (Websites and Mobile Application)

The exponential growth in technologies of communication offers people more ways to connect, communicate, and share information, and has thus, become the primary mode of communication because of its speed and versatility. However, the relevant questions are:

i. Is the information adequate (scope)?

ii. Where is the information from (source)?

iii. Who is the authority of the information (author/publisher)?

iv. Can the information solve the specific need (usefulness)?

Libraries have consciously adopted and explored communication technologies to promote information services and offer virtual services such as interlibrary loans, reference services, outreach services, prompt notification of library development, new arrivals/acquisitions, institutional repository updates, library orientation, user education, and language translation (Emasealu and Umeozor, 2018). Consequently, users should familiarize themselves with the available web-based automated library information services through the library's social media accounts and handles, websites and homepages, and mobile applications to access unabridged information services without the intervening presence of misinformation.


This work has examined the role and importance of communication during health emergencies and established that information is key to effective decision-making for meaningful and sustainable world order. It also established that health misinformation can lead to fear, vaccine hesitancy, death and ineffective public recovery that comes at a terrible cost for the society. The challenges of information handling in the modern world such as the exponential growth of media of communication and associated technologies have been cited as fuelling the wheels of misinformation. The work espoused the importance of the librarian as the professional information manager, citing the library as an information-neutral entity. Great approaches to accessing library information services during public health emergencies were enumerated to ensure improved access and dissemination of verifiable information aimed at the promotion of human society.


Emasealu, H.U., & Ezeonye, S.N. (2022). The first responder librarian as a guide to the information-vulnerable members of the society. Journal of Library Services and Technologies, 3(2), 112 – 118.

Emasealu, H.U., & Umeozor, S.U. (2018). Application of social media in the promotion of research activities: Librarians as catalysts. Library and Information Science Digest, 11(2), 22-35.

Kolluri, N. L., & Murthy, D. (2021). CoVerifi: A COVID-19 news verification system. Online Social Networks and Media, 22, 100123, ISSN 2468-6964,

Kwanya, T., Stiwell, C., & Underwood, P. (2015). Library 3.0: Intelligence libraries and apomediation. Kidlington, UK; Chandos Publishing.

Sell, T.K., Hosangadi, D., & Trotochaud, M. (2020). Misinformation and the US Ebola communication crisis: Analyzing the veracity and content of social media messages related to a fear-inducing infectious disease outbreak. BMC Public Health, 20, 550.

The Holy Bible (n. d.). Hosea 4:6. King James Version.



Dr. Helen U. Emasealu

Department of Library & Information Science

Faculty of Education

University of Port Harcourt


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Email: Helen,emasealu@uniport,


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