Mental Health, Wellbeing and the School Library

After the survey and landmark report on school library provision, the Great School Libraries Campaign is moving on to explore two further strands where libraries play a vital role and have a huge impact. Elizabeth Hutchinson is heading “Learning Through Inquiry” while I am focusing on “Mental Health and Wellbeing”.


It is important to note that it is not suggested that school librarians should become mental health experts or replace qualified professionals working in this capacity within schools. However, the role of a school librarian is multifaceted by nature; librarians have contact with the whole school community, providing resources and information to meet students’ needs. In many schools the library is the “bolt hole” and “safe space” for students suffering from poor mental health. These students go to the library, by choice, during break-times and are often sent there during the day by other staff. Therefore it makes sense that in order to provide relevant resources and appropriate support, the librarian should have knowledge of mental ill-health, its effects and impact on individuals, and strategies that will enable them to help these young people.


Mental health involves a person’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. The World Health Organisation states that health is: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of diseases or infirmity” and goes on to say that mental health is: “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”


With the increase in mental health issues amongst children and young people, school libraries play an important role in supporting their wellbeing. This is too often unrecognised and undervalued. During the next eighteen months the Campaign plans to gather evidence to support and advocate for this aspect of the school library.


Existing research


There have been numerous studies on various aspects of mental health; for example, the benefits of reading for pleasure. However, many of these are not linked to the role a school library can play in engendering wellbeing. We plan to collate existing projects and research around the topic of school libraries, wellbeing and mental health to provide a cohesive picture of evidence. This will also help to identify any gaps where future studies would be useful. If you know of or come across any studies or research then please share it with us: info@greatschoollibraries.org.uk


Collaboration


Collaboration is important. By working with organisations and charities involved in the area of mental health and wellbeing, we can feed into existing projects and reach out to engage with other initiatives. Many schools already work with these organisations and, in several cases, the librarian is actively involved. We intend to open a dialogue so that we can support projects and share research; this includes mental health organisations, reading/literacy-based organisations and those supporting specific sectors such as SEND, Neurodiverse, BAME and LGBTQ+ pupils.


Training


All school librarians receive statutory safeguarding training but very few receive any sort of mental health training. Considering the support they provide to students with mental ill-health, further training is important. We will be looking at what training is available, particularly with regards to working with children and young people, and the logistics of providing this to school librarians, possibly via an online platform.


Case Studies


One of the aspects of the Campaign is gathering data and providing evidence to support our advocacy, and case studies are an important part of this. We’ve received lots of case studies already and they have now been divided into three categories on the website: Reading for Pleasure/Information; Wellbeing/Diversity; and Learning Through Inquiry. Measuring the impact of what we do on the wellbeing and mental health of pupils is difficult. It is not always possible to collect quantitative evidence – although if you can this would be fantastic – more often than not evidence is qualitative. However, even this is useful and we would like more examples. Please have a look at the existing case studies to give you an idea of what others have done – and consider whether you could help us by adding to them. The website link also contains a template to use for guidance. If you have any questions please email: info@greatschoollibraries.org.uk


The role of the school library in supporting those with poor mental health is too often underestimated. This means that when a school closes its library and removes its librarian, it actually loses a lot more than a room filled with books; it eliminates a significant and essential asset for these vulnerable pupils.


Barbara Band, Vice-Chair GSL committee and member CILIP SLG committee.