Britain’s the Reading Agency, “whose mission is to inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives,” has just announced a grant of £60,000 ($91,370) from the Wellcome Trust. Why this gift from a highly respected medical charity? Because the Reading Agency is pioneering a scheme to use libraries to support mental health.
The Reading Agency, together with the UK’s Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) is driving Reading Well Books on Prescription, “a programme that helps people to understand and manage their health using accredited self-help reading material available from English public libraries.” According to the full evaluation report, available here, this scheme has resulted in an almost 100 percent increase in the number of mental health self-help books loaned through English public libraries since its launch in 2013. Actual figures for the effect on public mental health are not available, but the report quotes sample studies stating that 90 percent of participants gained more understanding of their condition, and 85 percent felt more confident in managing its symptoms.
The supporting agencies aim to reach up to 1 million people through the program by 2018. The report states that: “the programme has reached nearly half a million users since it was launched in June 2013” and that “Reading Well Books on Prescription is available in 97% of library authorities in England.” Novelist Matt Haig, a onetime sufferer from depression, reported on the program in the UK Daily Telegraph in an article entitled simply: “How books saved my life.”
Ciara Eastell, SCL President, said of the Wellcome Trust award: “The timing of this funding couldn’t be better as it builds on the significant development work that SCL and The Reading Agency have put into Reading Well in the last 2 years. This new investment will help ensure libraries are recognised as places where people can access high quality, accredited health information, and a partnership with the Wellcome Trust will be embraced by the entire library sector.”
So there you are. Books and libraries are not only essential for your mental well-being, they’re actually a health resource.