Post-Pandemic Health and Well-being Projects in Libraries
Insights into health initiatives in libraries by Paula Younger, Librarian with Somerset National Health System Foundation Trust, UK
After a year like no other, health is a topic on just about everyone’s mind. We may have the vaccines, and gradually be returning to some kind of what we used to call normal, but health remains a major topic of conversation. And not just physical health either, but general wellbeing. It’s a major theme with many libraries in the UK.
sign the pledge to vote for libraries!
I’ve worked in healthcare libraries for over 15 years, and my current role is to help colleagues in primary and integrated care in the region find the information they need, as part of a two year pilot funded by Health Education England, who oversee training in NHS England. In the service I work for, we also enjoy working with other sectors, and have some strong and rewarding links with colleagues in local public libraries.
Some of the wellbeing projects underway form part of the national public libraries offer, supported by input from Health Education England (https://www.librariesconnected.org.uk/universal-offers/health-wellbeing). In recent years, libraries have managed a whole host of wellbeing initiatives, all over the country (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/10/books-best-medicine-how-libraries-boost-wellbeing).
Somerset Public Libraries — wellbeing Areas
Several local public libraries in Somerset now have dedicated wellbeing areas for use by the public as well as for activities run by local health coaches.
As part of the physical spaces, the large overhead screens in the libraries are there to let people know what’s happening. (It’s all about making things less scary and more accessible.)
More wellbeing areas are due to be introduced shortly in other branch libraries around this very rural part of the West Country.
What’s Hatching in the Library?
We’re in the early “hatching” stages of working with our local public library colleagues to help health coaches get their message out there to the community. It’s hoped that the work can target some of those who can fall through the gaps when it comes to health information, for a range of reasons. Those reasons might include being housebound; English language literacy levels; eyesight conditions; or household income levels.
Health information can be pretty scary, as even the BBC has reported (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40329418). Our work will aim to make it easier to access health information on an iPad which can act as a portal to trustworthy sites and sources. And this will hopefully help users reduce their fear of accessing health and wellbeing information via a scary screen…
We’re constantly being reminded about the importance of wellbeing in the NHS and how it can contribute to resilience and reduce the risk of burnout.
After a few small teething problems, our recently rebuilt, refurbished, and reopened hospital library at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust in the county town of Taunton also now has a dedicated wellbeing corner.
Space is always at a premium, but this welcoming nook includes the small but perfectly formed book collection and comfy chairs. Clinical and support staff and trainees are always welcome to use the space to take a little time away from their workstations and hopefully recharge.
In pre-COVID times we might have had a communal jigsaw on the go, or colouring pages, but much of this has had to be adapted, for now at least.
We do run a monthly book group though — online for the moment. This year’s titles have all been chosen for their charm and their positive messages. We also have regular themed displays for events like Black History Month, as well as taking part in national library campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of how libraries can help. (We even allow users to borrow the books!)
Working Together, Learning Together
In our joint project with our public library colleagues, we’re also anticipating that we’ll learn from an existing project using iPads available for loan. The aim here is to help jobseekers to gain new skills (https://www.somerset.gov.uk/libraries-leisure-and-communities/libraries/library-facilities/borrow-ipad/). Although the focus might vary according to local need, other library services in the UK run similar iPad loan services, including the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales (https://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/enjoying/Libraries/Vale-Tablet-Loan-Scheme.aspx) and Suffolk (https://www.suffolklibraries.co.uk/borrow/help/borrowing-ereaders-and-microbits/borrowing-ereaders-and-tablets).
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted health inequality in so many areas of society, and health literacy is a major factor. It’s not new, either — the issue had been raised as a question in parliament even before the pandemic (https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2018-10-24/183412).
For anyone wondering what health literacy is, there’s a pretty clear description on the website of CILIP, our membership organisation in the UK. It’s “the ability to access, review and use health information” (https://www.cilip.org.uk/news/news.asp?id=500800).
Of course, once you’ve found that information, how do you know if it’s any good, or if you’re being merrily led up a garden path?
If you’ve ever heard or read a news bulletin about health, and wondered just how trustworthy the information really is, one of our focus areas in 2022 is going to be helping users to work out those levels of authenticity and trustworthiness.
While a huge amount of healthcare related information is equally applicable to any country, we know we sometimes need to proceed with caution with evidence. Even something like the way a medication is typically delivered can vary, even between countries with as much in common as the UK and US.
Our focus in the NHS Trust library at the moment is how we can effectively cascade useful information to our public library colleagues. One of our first tasks is to look at putting together some initial sessions as well as collating details of authoritative sources.
The Next Instalment?
We’re also going to be taking a look at ways we can extend iPad access for patients within the Healthcare Trust. As a library team, we’ve taken on our own collective wellbeing project in connection with this — namely the task of (virtually) walking, rowing, swimming, or jogging to the Library of Alexandria over the coming months. All the miles we log count towards the end goal.
It’s quite a journey from the West Country — last time I checked the map, I think we could almost see the coast of Kent, and were heading towards Europe…
And that brings me neatly back to the Primary and Integrated Care Knowledge and Library Services pilot. This joins up again at certain points with the Health Coaches, and taking health to the high street, just to name a couple of overlaps we’ve already identified, and we’re fairly sure there’ll be more.
So we’re sure 2022 will be just as challenging in its way as 2021 — and hopefully we’ll meet the challenge head on!
(Now where did I put those walking boots….)
Supporting libraries supports healthy communities. Consider a donation to your library or visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more.