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College of Information and Communications

Health Information Practices of LGBTQ+ Communities

This project examined the role of health information in the everyday lives of LGBTQ+ people and investigated how public libraries can promote the health of their LGBTQ+ communities. The study was funded by a three-year early career grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

It is well-established that LGBTQ+ people experience a range of negative health outcomes due to structural and social barriers. A significant barrier is informational, as LGBTQ+ people find it challenging to learn about their healthcare needs, navigate the healthcare system, and overcome barriers to care. This research addressed this barrier by investigating the socially and structurally embedded information practices of LGBTQ+ people as related to their health, and developing new models for public libraries to facilitate information practices that promote LGBTQ+ health within their communities.

Research findings provided new evidence for modeling new library services that leverage the specialized knowledge of local LGBTQ+ communities to develop more inclusive services, spaces, and collections. The project’s three stages identified the health information practices of LGBTQ+ communities and used these findings to inform a series of national community forums between public librarians, paraprofessionals, and LGBTQ+ communities to create a guidance document that public libraries can use to promote LGBTQ+ health and engage with their local LGBTQ+ communities. 


The three project phases had the following results:

  • Established an understanding of health information practices among LGBTQ+ communities.
  • Raised awareness of how LGBTQ+ communities are resilient and knowledgeable in the face of barriers to health information.
  • Suggested how public librarians can leverage LGBTQ+ community resilience and knowledge to provide more inclusive services, spaces, and collections for health information.
  • Enabled public librarians to replicate community forums with their local LGBTQ+ communities for health information.
  • Build community engagement among public librarians and local LGBTQ+ communities.


Phase I: Interviews with LGBTQ+ Communities

In Phase I, we conducted semi-structured individual interviews with 20-30 LGBTQ+ community leaders who do advocacy work in South Carolina about the health information practices of their communities. These interviews were validated with 6-8 focus groups of 8-12 LGBTQ+ community members each.

Research questions at this project phase were:

  • How do participants define their LGBTQ+ identities, community, and their role(s) in LGBTQ+ communities? What are other salient identities that intersect with their LGBTQ+ ones? How do these identities shape their health information practices?
  • How and where do LGBTQ+ communities look for information when they have health questions? How and where do LGBTQ+ communities receive health information for which they are not necessarily looking?
  • With whom do LGBTQ+ communities share information? How and why do they share it?
  • What health information sources do LGBTQ+ communities want? Why these sources? How do they help LGBTQ+ communities understand or use health information? How about sources that they do not want? Why not these sources?
  • How and where do LGBTQ+ communities create health-related information? What kinds of information do they create? Why?
  • What helps LGBTQ+ communities engage in creating, seeking, sharing, and using health information? What hinders them?
  • What ways, if any, do LGBTQ+ communities use public libraries to create, seek, share, and use health information? If communities do not use public libraries for this purpose, why not?

Phase 2: Initial Community Forum  

In Phase 2, we conducted a half-day community forum at Richland Library in Columbia, SC between 20-30 SC LGBTQ+ community leaders, and 20-30 SC public librarians and paraprofessionals. The community forum employed the World Café concept for facilitating large group dialog. This concept has been successfully applied in strengths-based health research to investigate the healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ communities. The SC State Library was onsite to assist with translating the community forum method and findings into a guidance document that can be used by other public libraries to replicate the community forum and incorporate research findings at their locations.

Research questions at this project phase were:

  • What perceptions do LGBTQ+ community leaders have about the role of public libraries in promoting the health-related information practices of their communities?
  • What perceptions do public librarians and paraprofessionals have about the role of their libraries in promoting the health-related information practices of LGBTQ+ communities?
  • How can public libraries leverage the skills and abilities of LGBTQ+ communities, as indicated by their current health-related information practices, to provide relevant and inclusive services, collections, and spaces?
  • How can public libraries leverage social and structural factors that assist LGBTQ+ communities in creating, seeking, sharing, and using health-related information? How can public libraries combat the social and structural factors that hinder LGBTQ+ communities in creating, seeking, sharing, and using health-related information?

Phase 3: Testing the Guidance Document

In Phase 3, the resultant guidance document was tested by running three additional community forums at one public library each in the Northeast, Midwest, and West. Public library partners varied in service size and geographic area served. Each forum followed a half-day format and facilitated dialog between 20-30 LGBTQ+ leaders and 20-30 public librarians and paraprofessionals.

Research questions addressed at this project phase were:

  • How do the research and design-based elements of the guidance document operate in practice?
  • What recommendations do community forum participants have for revision of the guidance document?


In addition to the reports required by the grant funding agency, IMLS, the PI and research team presented research findings in both oral presentations and written papers at scholarly and professional Library and Information Science, Health Informatics, and Health Promotion conferences. The period of July 2023 – February 2024 was used for concluding analysis, finalizing results, writing and revising articles for publication, and preparing the final IMLS report. 

Kitzie, V., Vera, A.N., & Lookingbill V. (2024). Examining public library service to LGBTQIA+ communities for health information: Project results and resources. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina. Google Drive 

More Information

This research was supported by an Early Career Research grant awarded by IMLS. Project partners are Richland Library and the South Carolina State Library.

The project proposal provides an in-depth discussion of the project including its significance, the project design, project members and staff, a diversity plan, and the project’s broad impact.

This research is informed by the PI’s dissertation.

We understand that umbrella labels like LGBTQ+ cannot fully capture the variety and multiplicity of ways that people identify themselves, and also can have racial and class-based connotations (among other identity intersections). We use this umbrella label not as a way to exclude identities not named (e.g., asexual, pansexual, genderqueer, etc.) or that intersect with sex, gender, and sexuality (e.g., race, class, ability, etc.) but for its cultural intelligibility. For this project, we want to represent the perspectives of people who have genders and sexualities considered non-normative by dominant, Western culture. If you have any questions or concerns about the labeling we are using for this study please Contact Us.

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