CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Libraries combat loneliness and social isolation

Social isolation and loneliness are now understood as “major public health issues” which can have a hugely negative impact on both mental and physical health (A Connected Scotland report, p.1). Libraries are an extremely important service for those facing isolation and loneliness. As one of the last truly free, public spaces where there is no expectation to spend any money, everybody is welcome and able to use library facilities, both in-person and online. In this way, they can bring people together, fostering connections and community interaction. Demonstrating this, libraries have been clearly outlined by the UK government as key public services for tackling these issues. Additionally, the Scottish Government in 2018 also outlined that libraries, as cultural services and community hubs, can help combat isolation and loneliness, including amongst “hard to reach groups” (A Connected Scotland report, p.18). For example:

  • Staff at Hillhead Community Library in Glasgow have said that a large part of their role is being welcoming and available to chat with people who have nobody else to talk to (A Connected Scotland report, p.20).
  • In their Social Isolation and Loneliness Strategy 2018-2027, South Ayrshire Council and NHS Ayrshire & Arran mention the important role of existing services and clubs run in libraries and other community spaces in tackling social isolation and loneliness and strengthening social networks (p.3). In general, all libraries organise and facilitate things such as book groups and knitting/craft groups, all of which bring people together, fostering social interaction and new connections across communities. Additionally, libraries run various parent and baby/toddler groups like Bookbug, which can be crucial for parents with young children who are at risk of loneliness, particularly single parents and parents who are socially disadvantaged (p.8). Bookbug sessions are always free to ensure that nobody is excluded.
  • Library staff in Dundee use their Outreach Service to tackle isolation. In 2016/2017, library staff met the needs of more than 300 library patrons (p.10), who are not able to leave their homes, by visiting them at their house with a selection of books through the Library At Home Service. They also loan out iPads equipped with Internet access to these patrons and offer them training and support to use them. The aim is to ensure that those who are at risk of becoming isolated are able to access the same services and resources that others in the community can and that they remain included in the library service. These visits are also a key source of social interaction for those people who have difficulty leaving their homes. Similarly, the Home Library Service run in Falkirk ensures that people who struggle to leave their house due to disability, illness, or caring responsibilities remain connected to the community. Such services are evidence of the role that libraries can play in combatting isolation and exclusion.
  • Danderhall Library in Midlothian runs a Film Club targetted at addressing loneliness amongst older men living alone, who are prone to experiencing isolation. The Club began in 2016 and is still running now, providing a crucial and popular service for those people in the community who are particularly at risk of becoming isolated. People watch films together then chat about them over a cup of tea, providing attendees with an opportunity not only to meet new people and socialise, but also to learn new things about film (A Connected Scotland report, p.67).

Check out the recently published Health on the Shelf report to learn more about the health and wellbeing offer from Scotland’s public libraries. This report was commissioned by SLIC and the research was carried out by Dr Alyson Tyler.

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