Libraries Can Help in Times of Stress, Uncertainty, and Burnout
Americans are struggling with excessive stress, anxiety, or burnouts find that it affects all aspects of their lives — from work to social circles and family. This is why many libraries have created initiatives to not only bring awareness to mental health but also ways to maintain good mental health and work through trying times.
Libraries are taking part in helping the community with mental health and wellbeing initiatives. This may not seem like the most obvious thing but libraries hold a huge impact when it comes to making a difference with mental health and wellness. Libraries maintain a wide reach into different populations within a community. Being such a centralized resource that is open to any and all types of people, the library is the ideal place to launch educational wellness programs and create a safe space for people to take refuge when needed. In some countries such as the United Kingdom, libraries and reading are specifically prescribed as a tool to help with healing.
Libraries wear a variety of hats when it comes to helping their communities. Mental health is just another area where patrons are served. With growing daily stresses that come with living in a modern age and unexpected global disasters like the pandemic, people are needing guidance and support more than ever. Libraries are there to fill this need.
Relief from Burnouts
The welcoming space that libraries offer the community is one of the aspects that make them great places of refuge for people struggling with mental health burnouts and difficulties. Within a library there are a lot of resources which make it suitable for people who are stressed or struggling. For one, libraries are open-minded spaces that welcome everyone into their doors regardless of background. Because of the accepting nature of libraries, patrons can feel comfortable and safe using the library. Many libraries also account for the types of mental difficulties patrons may be facing and prepare specific policies ahead of time to help. In addition, innovative library spaces have been created that fit the needs of different people who come through the doors like an autism-friendly library or sensory aware library spaces.
Spaces are not the only benefit to mental health that libraries offer. Libraries are also a quality place for people to find essential resources. Extensive library collections, knowledgeable staff, and connections to other community resources and organizations are just a few of the many materials and information in place for people who need it. At the library, people can feel safe about asking questions and also be comforted in knowing that they will be able to find an adequate answer.
Libraries are also the place that helps patrons take control of their personal situations. This can be a way for a patron to feel confident in themselves. They play a role in teaching useful digital skills and information literacy so patrons can become self-reliant. This way, patrons are able to search for resources and information on their own while knowing that they can trust themselves to do legitimate research.
Libraries and Reading Prescribed for Health
Using library resources to aid mental health initiatives can be applicable to many situations. In fact, countries within the United Kingdom such as England and Scotland are specifically prescribing reading and library visits to help treat patients. Bibliotherapy is a therapeutic approach used by a number of people as a treatment for mild to moderate mood-related conditions.
Studies have shown that reading and other forms or creative bibliotherapy can be useful in treating depression, anxiety, and many other mental health issues. It is also a helpful tool to use in adolescents to help promote self-awareness and build self-esteem. This is becoming a conventional form of therapy that mental health professionals use as a first step for those who do not require immediate help.
Self-Care in a COVID Age
The unexpected events that have transpired over the past year and a half has also led to an increase in communities who are facing mental health crises. The pandemic has added an additional layer of stress to families across the country who have had to deal with job loss, illness, isolation, and grief. Processing the events of a global pandemic is enough to cause anxiety but the exacerbation of societal inequalities have been made more apparent than ever. There are a myriad of stressors someone may face, for example, worrying over vulnerable loved ones, maintaining steady income, or processing the loss of so many lives.
Public libraries have had their share of attempting to figure out the best methods to provide safe and effective community service. Libraries also are understanding how to provide mental health and wellness services that many patrons still require. Many libraries have completely reinvented the way they run from creating drive-through services, setting up outdoor WiFi centers, and partnering with health organizations in the area.
In North Carolina, the Rowan Public Library is offering free virtual therapy sessions with a licensed professional to help patrons address their pandemic-related worries and find resources. In Colorado, librarians are stepping outside their traditional roles and working with volunteers and other library staff on community outreach. Librarians contact over 8,000 seniors to update them on library services and to ask if they need any further assistance.
It’s not just community members that libraries are caring for. Libraries also keep in mind the health and wellbeing of library staff. San Diego public librarians are trained in mental health first aid. This not only helps the librarians find healthy ways to address their own stressors. This training can be used to help teach the community mental health and wellbeing methods. Librarians in Milwaukee were also taught creative coping skills to deal with anxiety or stress from the pandemic. They worked with colleagues to create and publish art and writing pieces in a zine. They participated in their own form of bibliotherapy and donated the revenue to Mental Health First Aid, continuing the cycle of mental health education.
Libraries as Mental Health Hubs
Achieving good mental health comes from a combination of actions. Libraries have implemented a tremendous amount of creative programming in order to meet the needs of their patrons. They teach community members important how-tos when it comes to navigating the healthcare system and figuring out how to tackle their own mental health needs. The best part is that libraries exist in locations such as busy urban areas to rural neighborhoods which means people everywhere are getting the help they need. Mental health and wellness is a big and complex topic to tackle but libraries are taking the right steps in bettering the community. With continued efforts towards raising awareness and spreading knowledge, mental health education and tools will become a consistent part of daily lives.
We’ve included a few citations for further reading.
American Library Association. (2021). Bibliotherapy. https://www.ala.org/tools/atoz/bibliotherapy
GoodTherapy. (2016, May 9). Bibliotherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/bibliotherapy
Institute of Library and Museum Services. (2021). Beacons of Strength: Libraries Provide Mental Health Resources to Cope With COVID. https://www.imls.gov/blog/2020/11/beacons-strength-libraries-provide-mental-health-resources-cope-covid
International Federation of Library Association. (2017, Jul 21). It takes a community to raise a reader: Autism friendly libraries. http://library.ifla.org/1744/