Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust
When considering possible partners to deliver on health and wellbeing, would public libraries spring to mind? Maybe not. Yet public libraries provide a trusted and safe community space, and a range of initiatives evidence these institutions’ ability to support those with mental and physical health conditions.
In Northern Ireland, Health in Mind brings together four mental health charities with Libraries NI to provide relevant, accessible, up-to-date information on how to improve your mental health. It also helps people to acquire self-help skills, create social opportunities, address stigma and provide volunteers with opportunities. The project has online and offline resources and has produced resources, run library activities and group activities.
Across the way in Scotland, Midlothian Libraries employ a Bilbliotherapist who maximises the use of Healthy Reading Collections available in all Midlothian libraries, as well as using other literature, texts and writing as a means to improve mental health of participants. Meanwhile, ‘Book Prescription Wales’ and ‘Reading Well Books on Prescription’ in England provides self-help reading for several common mental health problems. Books can be recommended or ‘prescribed’ by GPs and borrowed from the local library.
Macmillan@Glasgow Libraries is a partnership between Glasgow Life and Macmillan Cancer Support that provides information and support in libraries in Glasgow. In a similar vein, Suffolk County Council runs an “Information on Prescription” service at libraries and encourages people to find out about any long term illnesses which may be affecting them. The project started with GP referrals but expanded through partnerships, for instance with East Anglia Ambulance Service. Open days for carers had a high uptake and has led to a local network being established.
Support for carers and countering stigma
In partnership with Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia UK, Age Concern and others, Kent County Council, Registration and Archives have developed an innovative offer to help people living with dementia and their carers. These include their ‘Read Aloud’ and ‘Pictures to Share’ sessions, helping to stimulate memory and provide enjoyment. They have worked with Kent Gateways to develop a substantial library offer, to provide information and signposting, to train staff and volunteers and to raise awareness of dementia in Kent and beyond. Nearby Cambridgeshire Libraries ran ‘countering stigma in dementia’ in 2009, encouraging people with dementia to express themselves verbally with support from a poet. Participants attended poetry readings at library. The project also offered training for library staff, care staff and medics. Project involved staff from many sectors, and voluntary sector.
These examples are the tip of the iceberg of libraries’ endeavours. Yet even the apex of these activities is indicative of their broader untapped potential as partners in achieving improved health wellbeing across communities.
To access more information on how public libraries contribute to wellbeing click here. To see how the Trust will be supporting innovation in public libraries, including innovative partnerships, please click here.