How Libraries Address the Loneliness Epidemic
This has created an epidemic of loneliness and mental health issues all stemming from the added stress of being connected yet isolated at the same time. People who are socially isolated are more at risk of mental, emotional, and physical health issues from depression and poor sleep to impaired executive function or substance abuse. But, libraries have been and will always be here to help.
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Role of Libraries
Libraries hold a unique role in communities especially since they are centered around being a welcoming, inclusive, and useful space for those who need it. This is the place that people can go to feel safe and supported which is a major step in opening up connection between members of the community. People go to the library to read books, study, meet up with friends, learn new skills, and engage in activities.
In addition to endless free literature that libraries provide which already contribute to combating loneliness and social isolation, libraries are always brimming with activity for people to get involved with. Programming at most libraries are packed with events that promote social interaction whether they are bringing people together over similar hobbies or new ideas to learn about. A library’s social calendar has something for everyone and will oftentimes include outreach activities where the library collaborates with other organizations in the community to teach and hold events that people may find of interest.
Libraries are ideal for nurturing that social connection between people and work extremely hard to ensure they are reaching their communities and meeting their needs. The past year has shown just how much people are missing out on when they are asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. A nationwide study was run by the Australian Library Association that highlighted important activities that people have missed about their local library. This showed that key social activities like storytimes, working with library staff, and events held at the library were valuable aspects to people’s lives.
Examples of Library Connections
Libraries are capable of overcoming and helping people overcome many problems. Combating loneliness and social isolations is just one task that libraries have recognized their impact in. For example, the Oceanside Library created a program to help combat loneliness and keep people connected even while society is dealing with the new, remote way of life. It identifies many aspects related to loneliness and addresses ways to include an anti-loneliness component in library programming. A presentation over this was held late last year and people can view the recording to learn more about the program.
Libraries all around the world are creating similar programs to help address loneliness. Kent Library created a Touch a New World Program where people borrowing iPads are also given the option of having a volunteer visit them on a weekly basis and show them how to set up accounts, browse the internet, and use technology in a safe and healthy way. Programs like these ensure that community members aren’t getting lost in this new, connected world and are able to stay grounded with social interactions in the real world.
Lots of other programs invite patrons out of their home and into group spaces where they are able to share in books and discussions. The Reading Agency created Reading Friends so people could come together to read and meet friends while another library in Birmingham created a Coffee Morning to encourage people to meet up a few hours each month and socialize.
Addressing a Public Health Issue
Media can be a helpful tool to have but the effects of overconsumption can be more harmful than we realize. Social isolation and loneliness are now understood as two issues that can negatively affect those who experience it. Libraries provide an important service to communities when it comes to facilitating genuine conversation and interactions in the community.