England & Wales Communities and society, Culture, sport and tourism, Education and children's services, Health and social care

Viewpoint: Pick up self help reading from local libraries

Photo Credit: colemama via Compfight cc

The Reading Agency’s Debbie Hicks discusses the innovative ‘Books on Prescription’ scheme.

There has been a major step change in the way in which public libraries can make a difference to the health and well being of local people. Third sector charity, The Reading Agency is working with the Society of Chief Librarians, local libraries services and health partners to promote better health and well being through Reading Well, the first national Books on Prescription scheme for England.

We live in stressful times. There is massive need for quality assured self-help for common mental health conditions. A recent report from the London School of Economics gives some shocking statistics: 6 million people in England experiencing the crippling effects of anxiety and depression, three quarters of whom are receiving no treatment. One in four people experiencing mental ill health in any one year is a familiar statistic but the harsh reality is that poor mental health ruins lives.

Reading Well Books on Prescription provides quality assured self help reading for adults for a range of common mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, worry, stress, phobias and some eating disorders. Books can be recommended by GPs and other health professionals from a core list of thirty expert endorsed titles available from local libraries across England.

Why libraries?

Research shows that people see the library as a safe, trusted and non-stigmatised place to go for help with and information about health ( Public Library Activity in the Areas of Health and Well Being, MLA, 2010). A trip to the local library for a self help reading book can, for many people, be an important first step on the road to recovery.

What does this look like locally?

In Devon, the library service is working with the Director of Public Health to provide collections for all 50 static libraries as well as three prison libraries and eight mobiles. In August, five of the 30 self–help titles were in the 25 most popular loans across the county. Ciara Eastell, Head of Libraries, Culture and Heritage observes, The timeliness of the programme has really worked- to be able to have a low-cost, effective county wide offer in place soon after the local authority takes on public health is a huge strength. It’s a win-win partnership for Dr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health; Libraries provide community access points for quality assured health information and guidance. They are key partners in delivering the local authority health agenda.

In Croydon, libraries are working with the local IAPT service to provide self-help collections and leaflets in each of Croydon’s 13 libraries alongside Mood Boosting novels and poetry. Dr Catrin McGuire, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust says, Reading Well Books on Prescription is a cost effective tool to support well-being. We are investing in it because we can see its value as a first step in seeking help and as a support for the work of IAPT practitioners. It seems to be working. Book issues of core list titles have quadrupled in July and August compared to preceding months.

Final approval comes from service user Gill Taft from Warwickshire. She says I’ve worried for so many years about why I get depression and anxiety but I’ve never had anyone really explain it to me before. The books have helped me so much in understanding things like what can bring on a panic attack, and why it makes me feel the way it does.

For more information contact the local library services or The Reading Agency at readingwell@readingagency.org.uk / www.readingagency.org.uk/readingwell

Debbie Hicks is Director of Research and Strategy at The Reading Agency


Reading Well Books on Prescription has been developed by independent charity, The Reading Agency, working in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians, local library services and health partners. It is evidence based, works within NICE guidelines and is endorsed by health organisations including the Department of Health and the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners, Psychiatrists and Nursing and NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. The idea is not new; building on local best practice and a model developed in Wales by professor Neil Frude but it is the first time library and health partners have come together to deliver a consistent, quality assured approach across England supported by a national expert endorsed self help booklist of 30 titles and user and prescriber guides.