Working Towards Wellbeing: Libraries Week 2018

October 8, 2018

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By Jenny Peachey, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

This week, libraries across the UK will be showcasing and celebrating what they do best: bringing communities together, supporting people, combating social isolation and providing a safe civic space that is open to all. In short, they will be demonstrating how they improve people’s wellbeing.

The challenging climate in which public libraries currently operate means that those of us who are keen for libraries to continue improving wellbeing into the future need to think seriously about the future funding, focus and structure of the service. Libraries Connected’s new status as an NPO, the British Library’s work on a single digital presence for public libraries and CILIP’s new campaign to ring-fence library funding are key initiatives in this area.

Our more recent work, from our research and policy endeavours (Shining a Light) to practical projects supporting innovation and leadership in the sector (Carnegie Library Lab), from exploring how to create new products and get different voices heard (hackathons) to partnership projects focused on delivering public engagement activities in libraries (Engaging Libraries), has at its heart the understanding that public libraries enable and connect, giving individuals the opportunity both to fulfil their potential and to feel fulfilled.

Well-used, well-loved and trusted, around half of us are library users and over two-fifths of users are using the library at least once a month. The level of usage and the value placed in libraries – three-quarters of us think that public libraries are essential or very important to communities – means that libraries are well placed partners for those seeking to improve wellbeing. Indeed, others have written about the savings library engagement makes for the NHS (£30million a year) and how reading for pleasure is linked to a reduction in stress and the symptoms of depression.

Looking beyond health, public libraries run a vast array of programmes that have the potential to improve wellbeing in a range of areas of public policy: social, cultural, economic and educational. They are spaces in which services are provided for the whole community – from older people and homeless people to disabled people and new parents; they are spaces for making music, exhibiting plays and dance and hosting classes and workshops; and many seek to maximise income, improve access to employment and encourage enterprise.

Wellbeing is a rich theme for Public Libraries Week 2018, allowing public libraries to demonstrate the breadth of their work. This week of celebration is an ideal opportunity to raise the profile of public libraries amongst those who are not (yet!) working with the sector.