Sunday, 23 May 2010

Public library activity in the areas of health and well-being

Reading Agency and Department of Information Science at Loughborough University have just issued a report — "Public library activity in the areas of health and well-being" — on a study funded by the MLA.

There's a lot to feel encouraged about by this, not least the recognition that public libraries already do a lot of work with their local communities to promote both healthy living and well-being in general. As the authors state:
"Libraries offer neutral, non- stigmatised, non-clinical community space, in a setting that differentiates it from hospital services, delivers the prevention agenda particularly effectively, and has implications for the audiences reached. Partners felt that the combination of these factors creates a unique offer that made the public library a good place to offer health and well-being activity."

Inevitably, though, we continue to suffer because of the diffidence of the public library sector:

"Libraries’ inability to articulate their contribution to the health and well-being agenda is reinforced by their relative invisibility in high level health, well-being and social care policy and strategy."

This needs to change and it is encouraging to see that in many places it is changing and library managers are banging the drum about the contribution that their libraries make. It's important that we factor this into resource planning for public libraries. One of the continuing dangers of the development of self-service and 'tell us once' projects is that they are seen as replacements for front-line library staff instead of liberators of front-line library staff.
"Library staff are viewed as a key resource in terms of their existing roles and functions, since some aspects of health and well-being work build on what library staff do and what they do well."

If we can release front-line staff from purely mechanical tasks then they will have more time to do what they do so well. And it is arguably more cost-effective for the public purse to let (let's be honest: inexpensive) public library staff do their thing than it is to have a raft of projects and programmes, each with their own manager and funding stream.

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