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The Virtual Library: Health & Wellbeing and the National Strategy for School Libraries

Category: Blog

Every month we showcase an activity or project that furthers one of the strategic aims of Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools (VLTS): A National Strategy for School Libraries 2018 – 2023. We had such a good response to our health & wellbeing blog that we asked Kathleen O’Neill, school librarian at Lourdes Secondary School in Glasgow, to tell us more about the health & wellbeing benefits of her virtual library.


Kathleen O’Neill


Lourdes Secondary School, Glasgow


The Virtual Library

Furthering Strategic Aim:

4: Health and Wellbeing

Relevant HGIOSL quality indicators:

1.5 Management of resources to promote equity

3.1 Improving wellbeing, equality and inclusion

3.3 Increasing creativity and employability


Since becoming a librarian, my interest in mental health services and resources has continued to grow. One of the last projects I worked on before lockdown was with school librarians and community librarians across Glasgow, to buy fiction and non-fiction for our YA mental health book collections. This was a continuation of the work undertaken by community library colleagues working with NHS Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in identifying suitable stock.

But when the schools closed in March, pupils couldn’t get into the library to borrow these books. They couldn’t speak to the school librarians about whatever was bothering them, or enjoy booky events and clubs in the safe space of the school library.

The Virtual Library

So I set up a Library Team on Glow, to give pupils a virtual library. This community was backed up with the Library social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram. Pupils were, and are still, able to share book recommendations and their artwork, as well as taking part in competitions. The most important thing about the group was to keep pupils engaged and give them a safe place in which to express themselves during a period of time which could be difficult to manage from a mental health perspective. For example, every day in June, I posted a prompt. Sometimes these asked pupil simple questions like choosing their favourite dinosaurs, and to enter creative writing or art competitions, but others were more relevant to discussions of mental health, like Empathy Day on 9 June, when pupils were asked to reach out to someone in their lives and do something kind for that person. These prompts encouraged pupils to talk to one another about how they were getting on during lockdown and gave them activities, including competitions, to focus on during a difficult time.

The virtual library meant I was able to continue running library clubs too. In October 2019, I set up a role-playing games club. We were pretty well established before lockdown started. One of the key aims of the group was to bring pupils together and to encourage them to develop a community. When the schools closed, some pupils found it a struggle to be without that community, so we moved over to playing games virtually with a Team set up specifically to keep the group talking and to run the games.


It was a great success, and the virtual library and the club has grown as a result. It worked really well in terms of giving pupils a weekly catch-up with me and with each other, and as a way to relax and switch off from the world. These games also made the pupils work together, find creative solutions, and tell their own stories.


I found that working from home gave me more time to learn more about mental health, specifically young people’s mental health. During lockdown, I signed up to courses including on a course in “Bibliotherapy, Literature, and Mental Health” with Book Therapy.  I also continued to study towards my qualification as a Mental Health First Aider for Young People through the NHS. These studies helped me write a funding bid for a citywide bibliotherapy/storytelling project with the aim of helping young people learn to express their mental health concerns through a variety of storytelling media.

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