reading matters, so let's make public library reader services awesome!

creative bibliotherapy: possibilities part 2

Creative, or social, bibliotherapy is another strong example of a connection-based community service gaining ground in public library service. With a focus on social inclusion and community collaborations, creative bibliotherapy programs offer therapeutic opportunities with wide-ranging personal and community benefits including improved health, well-being, social participation, literacy development, sense of self-worth, confidence, concentration, connection to others, as well as economic benefits. These programs involve the facilitation of shared reading groups by a trained facilitator, supported by stimulating literature. Group participants usually have a common therapeutic need.

The belief is that when someone makes a connection with a particular story they can often begin to better connect with their lives on a 
personal and emotional level(Susan McLaine, 2012)

Participants value the neutrality of the program and feel they have avoided the possible stigma of attending a medical intervention program(Jennie Bolitho, 2009)

Organisations of note

– Shared Reading NSW (and on Facebook here) –  based on the pioneering work of the Reader Organisation in the United Kingdom.

With the practice of Shared Reading we aim to provide opportunities and reduce barriers for people to engage with serious literature and build meaningful connections with people. Shared Reading NSW has a vision for a society in which everybody is able to access, engage with and enjoy literature regardless of their level of literacy, confidence with reading, background, age, level of health or social circumstances.

– The organisation leading the bibliotherapy charge is The Reader Organisation UK    

The Reader Organisation is a charitable social enterprise working to connect people with great literature through shared reading. Community and library shared reading groups demonstrate wide-ranging impacts: improved health, wellbeing and quality of life; learning, skills and employability; strong and safe communities through social participation; economic benefit and value for money.

Research from The Reader Organisation UK


The Reader Online: Dementia reading group

– Australia’s  National Bibliotherapy Association (NBA) , whose objectives are:

  • to develop a national framework to support bibliotherapists and community organisations interested in providing bibliotherapy services through the dissemination of information.
  • to support the development of social outreach projects through partnerships with national, regional and sub-regional organisations across a variety of sectors.
  • to support the development of research programs to help build a sound basis for our belief that bibliotherapy services can be beneficial.
  • to raise the profile of bibliotherapy in the media and the community and to spread the word of bibliotherapy’s therapeutic efficacy.
  • to work towards raising funds to support bibliotherapy initiatives in Australia.

Best Reads on Bibliotherapy:

– Jennie Bolitho’s 2009 report on Bibliotherapy: Reading into Wellbeing; Libraries, Health and Social Connections   Jennie is a member of NBA.

Bibliotherapy recognizes the value of sharing good literature and its potential to improve and support mental and emotional wellbeing and social connection. This is not a new idea – references go back to Plato and more recently after World War II, but the concept relates very strongly to the increasingly important role of libraries in the health and wellbeing of their communities, particularly at a time when mental health and social problems are high on social, political and medical agendas.

– Susan McLaine’s 2010 report on Bibliotherapy: Reading for Wellbeing in Old Age. Susan is president of NBA.

It is thought that bibliotherapy (a read-aloud reading intervention) may have a positive impact on the wellbeing of people living with dementia. Recent studies are contributing to the data now available as a result of several years of delivery of bibliotherapy programs, and these studies indicate that such programs deliver positive wellbeing outcomes. Today, bibliotherapy is recognised internationally. It involves the provision of carefully selected and evaluated books, including non-fiction texts (that offer physical and mental health information) along with fiction and poetry (to provide a more creative form of therapy).

– Susan McLaine’s 2011 paper on Victoria’s Book Well Program, in Australiasian Public Libraries and Information Services (APLIS) 24 (2) pp. 82-84. (also at The Free Library).

The program aims to reduce social exclusion and improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people such as the homeless, unemployed, people in aged care facilities, new migrants and those with mental health issues.

– Between the Lines by Suzy Freeman-Greene  (2011) about Victoria’s Book Well program (featuring Susan McLaine)

The group is part of Book Well, a collaboration between the State Library, the public libraries network and VicHealth. The idea, says project manager Susan McLaine, is to move “beyond a book-club approach to literature into a therapeutic realm”.

– The Therapy of Reading (2011) on The Book Show (featuring Susan McLaine)

Now bibliotherapy is having a resurgence as a therapy. It merges the science of psychology and the art of literature to make people feel better about themselves. More and more, health professionals are using books to address emotional and behavioural issues with their patients. And it’s not just self-help books but the classics too.

– Elizabeth Brewster’s report (2007) on Medicine for the Soul: Bibliotherapy and Public Libraries

– Mandy Nolan has used comedy as therapy for people with dementia, working with communities to present her Stand Up for Dementia workshops and training : Stand Up and Deliver, Stand Up for Dementia at Moreton Bay.


Have you had Read to Lead or Shared Reading training and would like to share your experience with others?


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