CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Libraries support and promote health, well-being and inclusion

As well as the core aims of developing literacy and providing access to books, information, and the digital world, libraries also focus on providing services to promote mental and physical well-being and to support people facing health issues and illnesses. The Health on the Shelf report, published in April 2020 by SLIC and researched by Dr Alyson Tyler, provides a comprehensive overview of the health and wellbeing offer from Scotland’s public libraries.

See below for some examples of great practice in this area:

  • Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries is now available in 33 libraries across Glasgow and continues to be an important source of emotional and practical support for those affected by cancer. More than 16,000 people have used the service since it launched in 2012 (Glasgow Life Annual Review 2018/2019, p.5). Macmillan support is now also available in many libraries across Scotland, for example, Edinburgh public libraries and Argyll & Bute libraries. Libraries support Macmillan volunteers to deliver crucial services through providing space in their libraries for these to take place. Library staff also directly support this initiative by managing information points within libraries (Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries 2017 Report, p.6). The use of libraries to deliver this service has been argued to be of great benefit for a number of reasons. They have resources such as IT and WiFi, and library staff, as information professionals, are on hand to offer support in finding the right information. Service users also appreciate that this service is run out of libraries because they are more relaxed and informal than health care settings, and, perhaps most importantly, “libraries are trusted by communities” (Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries 2017 Report, p.8). This is very powerful evidence of the impact libraries have in supporting their local communities.
  • Dundee’s Library Service offers specialised services for health and wellbeing. For example, the Dementia Library, which opened in 2016, supports people affected by Dementia through offering access to information and resources, and running activities for people who have dementia, as well as their carers, family, and people who work in dementia care (Leisure & Culture Dundee Year in Review 16/17, p.7).
  • Many libraries across the country now house Citizens Advice services. For example, Perth Citizen’s Advice Bureau is available in a number of libraries across Culture Perth and Kinross, providing a service titled Benefits Advice in Libraries (BAIL). This service offered in libraries ensures that local people can freely and easily access confidential and impartial benefit’s advice.
  • Libraries champion and promote wellbeing, encouraging people to think about and take steps towards being physically and mentally healthy. One example is Walk ON, run by several libraries in the Fife area. Understanding the physical and mental health benefits of both walking and reading, this library initiative combines the two. Those participating enjoy a short group health walk and afterward, the group gets together for a tea/coffee and informal discussion about books with a library reading group facilitator.

Additionally, libraries work hard to ensure all people can access the resources they need, thus contributing to their feeling of inclusion in the community, which can, in turn, improve well-being. This also links to our information on the role of libraries in combatting the social issues of isolation and loneliness.

  • Support for people with autism and ASN

‘Inverclyde Libraries are Au-some!’: an initiative to ensure libraries in Inverclyde are autism-accessible in order to support children and adults with autism or who have additional support needs (ASN). To ensure they are autism-accessible, Inverclyde libraries now provide sensory resources and equipment, colour-coded floorplans, improved signage, and have increased their stock of autism-related books and Makaton/British Sign Language books. Greenock Central Library hosts ‘Au-some Afternoons!’ which are designed for people with autism/ASN and include an Au-some Bookgbug session, Makaton signing, and Quiet Library Time. Demonstrating libraires’ commitment to inclusion, initiatives like this are steps towards ensuring all people can access the resources and services they need and that the library environment feels safe and welcoming for all.

The Glasgow School of Art has also worked to ensure that their library is accessible to neurodiverse students. They offer a designated librarian for students with ASN who can find it difficult to interact with new people and who often appreciate the familiarity of a dedicated contact. Additionally, they provide colour-coded maps, accessible formats of key texts, and a book fetching service for anybody who is unable to retrieve items physically from the library themselves.

  • Share the Vision 

Share the Vision is a coalition of organisations in the UK that focus on ensuring library services are accessible for visually impaired and print disabled people. They have developed a Six Step Promise to improve access to public libraries for blind and partially sighted people across the UK. The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has been working with Share the Vision and the Society of Chief Librarians since 2010 to support Scottish libraries to implement the Six Step Promise and by doing so, Scottish libraries ensure that blind and partially sighted individuals are able to access the resources and information they need in a format that works for them, which they may be otherwise unable to obtain. Adopting this Promise makes the library a more welcoming and inclusive space for all which can help bring people together to find support.

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