Why Libraries Matter to Scotland's Health and Wellbeing

Interior of a library
Category: Reading
Tagged: reading, Libraries

Libraries and their outstanding, dedicated and professional librarians are perfectly placed to promote good health and wellbeing across Scotland. They are a safe, judgement-free and inclusive space and their staff are well-trained and skilled practitioners. This, combined with some of the many innovative projects happening in school and public libraries means that, if they are protected from short-sighted cuts, libraries will continue to play a vital role in a healthy Scotland.

Many people struggle to find good quality health information online, or perhaps don’t have the basic literacy skills to understand the medicine they are given. Library staff, experts in information literacy and able to inspire reader development at all levels, are equipped to help provide their users with the skills needed. Cross-sectoral work is important for this too of course, and our colleagues at Scottish Library and Information Council are working with the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland on a project to increase library staff knowledge of self-management and health literacy.

With Scotland’s population expected to continue to rise and age, health and social care are becoming more stretched all the time. Many areas also have large amounts of social deprivation, creating a lot of vulnerable and isolated people. For many of these, the local library is a vital lifeline responding to the social needs of individuals and groups, making library space, support and services available and helping individuals to become involved in their local communities. The value of public libraries to health and wellbeing is clearly highlighted in the National Strategy for Public Libraries and Carnegie UK Trust’s Speaking Volumes report.

Reading for pleasure, one of the core library offers, is hugely beneficial. Research has shown reading for pleasure can result in increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.

Scotland’s public library network has many shining examples of innovative work in health and wellbeing. Take MacMillan in Libraries, started in Glasgow Libraries and now in other local authorities, for example. The drop-in service for people whose lives have been affected by cancer has now supported over 10,000 people via attendances at its information points. 

In Angus, Dementia Memory Boxes help people with dementia retain or reconnect with cherished memories. In Moray, Playlist for Life have held sessions in the libraries for people with the same condition. In Inverclyde and Midlothian work is ongoing to develop services for users with autism and their carers.  Also in Midlothian Braw Blether encourages individuals to come together to share thoughts, ideas, emotions and feelings using books, stories and poems as inspiration.

School libraries are also carrying out ground-breaking work in health and wellbeing. School libraries in Aberdeen are creating a Shelf Help toolkit for school libraries. A specialist trainer will run CPD training events for library and teaching staff on how to improve the library space, and the best ways to develop and promote a Shelf Help area in the school libraries to support the mental health and wellbeing needs of young people. Moray’s under threat school librarians have produced amazing work in this area too.

Despite all this work and the many more examples I could give, much of which could only be described as essential, several proposals in this year’s budgets set out plans to close branch libraries or reduce numbers of librarians in school and public libraries. When libraries are providing a lifeline for people and helping improve wellbeing then what sense is there in reducing skilled staffing or expecting the most vulnerable people in communities to travel further than they are able?

Sean McNamara

Sean McNamara is the Policy and Digital officer for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland. Sean previously worked in public libraries for five years as a People’s Network and Learning Services Librarian.

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