A lot has happened since SLIC exhibited at the last in-person VHS conference and we are delighted to be back as exhibitors to highlight the vital role that libraries play in supporting health & wellbeing in communities across Scotland. Like everyone else over the past couple of years, the SLIC team adjusted to working from home and embraced technology to explore new ways of working. During this time of uncertainty SLIC were working on the development of a new five-year strategy for public libraries in Scotland. Commissioned in a very different pre-Covid world it was obvious that there would have to be a focus in the new strategy on how to support communities as they recovered. Forward: Scotland’s Public Library Strategy 2021-2025 was published in August 2021 and set out a bold vision for public libraries in Scotland with wellbeing at its core. Recognising that the shift to digital brought about by the pandemic could also lead to digital exclusion as well as social isolation and loneliness, the strategy also sought to ensure that the value of the library as a safe and trusted community space with an established digital infrastructure was amplified.
Libraries have long supported health and wellbeing through established partnerships, for example with Macmillan, Playlist for Life and the ALLIANCE. Forward set out further commitment to embed the work of A Collective Force for Wellbeing with the development of a new action plan. SLIC was a leading partner in the Collective Force for Health & Wellbeing Action Plan Refresh alongside the ALLIANCE, the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre (DHI), and the Scottish Government Self-Management and Health Literacy team. Public Health Scotland, NHS 24, COSLA, and NHS Education for Scotland have also contributed to the plan and supports its implementation.
As one of the outputs of the action plan an Information for Wellbeing Course has been created and is available to all library and third sector staff. The blended learning course consolidates learning through inbuilt quizzes, workbooks for self-reflection and discussion in facilitated groups. It supports self-directed learning and encourages networks of libraries and third sector staff to come together in facilitated learning sessions – using the workbook exercises to share experiences and explore collaboration.
Another key objective was to develop a set of pathfinder projects which would support the delivery of different components of the action plan and include new projects as well as collaboration with existing initiatives. One such initiative has seen the launch of the ‘Near me in Libraries’ pilot. The ‘Near Me in Libraries’ scheme builds on the existing ‘Near Me’ video consulting service that enables people to attend health and care appointments remotely. For the NHS Near Me team, scaling up video consultations is a key national priority which will help allow greater and more convenient access to both routine appointments and specialist support from anywhere in the country. Local libraries are ideally positioned to support people at risk of digital exclusion, especially in terms of health and care services. Networked with free public Wi-Fi, users have access to private and confidential spaces, with trained staff available to support their digital literacy needs.
The ten libraries selected to take part in the pilot cover a diverse range of settings and population types and will be used to test the feasibility. This will include creating confidential booking systems and establishing communication and partnership with local services. The pilot results will set the groundwork to inform further rollout for public libraries across the country to begin delivering ‘Near Me’ access as part of their core services. With over 500 libraries across Scotland the potential reach is huge and will ensure that communities across the country have fair and equal access to vital health and social care appointments. SLIC is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with health partners and provide support for Realistic Medicine.
Marion Kunderan is Business Support Officer at Scottish Library and Information Council