How library reading services improve wellbeing

The modern library offers ways for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the health benefits of reading. Free books in multiple formats, local reading groups and home delivery help more people indulge in stories and conversation.

Reconnecting with the world

When Ian from Gateshead was referred to a reading group, he hadn’t left his house for 18 months. Joining a Reading for Wellbeing pilot programme transformed his life.

Ian's story

I’ve always loved reading, and cherished books, but I hadn’t visited a library for several years. My mum was ill and my life had been consumed with looking after her.

After she passed away, I was in a very dark place. I couldn’t really see any future, and I was living in fear. With the pandemic as well, I found myself getting all my shopping and things delivered, and I just lost touch with people.

I know the date my life changed: it was 25 August 2021. Patricia, a community link worker, was kind enough to refer me to a one-day event as part of the Reading for Wellbeing programme pioneered by the author, Ann Cleeves.

It was a big deal for me to leave my house and go to the event - I hadn’t gone out in 18 months. It was a nice event, and to my surprise I ended up on the local TV news, because they were doing a story about the project. I went on to join a reading group at Blaydon Library.

Then I was lucky enough to join Reading Ramblers in Chopwell Wood, which is my favourite place. The library loans you a tablet and headphones, you download an audiobook and you listen while you walk through the beautiful scenery. Then we all stop and have a cup of tea and talk about what we’ve listened to. It’s so good for stress and anxiety. We saw a baby deer once!

My life looks very different now - I wake up every day and I have a purpose. I volunteer with Gateshead Carers, and with the Community Links Service. My calendar has something in it every day. There must be other people who are in the same situation I was in, and it’s so important we find them and offer them the same lifeline.

I’ve reconnected with the world at my own pace, and I owe it to some very kind strangers who helped me reconnect with the library, reading and people.

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"My life changed the day I was referred to the Reading for Wellbeing programme."
Ian, customerGateshead Libraries

Benefits of book groups

Tracey Morgan works at Westgate Library, part of Kent Libraries, where she helps supply books for several book groups. She recognises the benefits of using reading as a way for people to reconnect with people.

Book groups are a great way to meet people

“I think the main benefits of book groups are that they give people an opportunity to get out of the house, gather with others and learn about new authors. And they’re often free!” she says.

One thing people might not realise about library book groups is that they don’t actually have to take place in the library.

“We only have one reading group that actually meets in our library,” says Tracey. “The others meet in pubs, community centres, even each other’s homes. We’re happy to help these groups get started and supply them with books - as a library we just want to do whatever we can to get people reading and talking.”

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Bringing stories to the isolated

Not all library customers can get out to visit a book group. Dorothy lives in Tyne and Wear, and loves her book group, which is based in Hartlepool where she used to live. “Since the pandemic the buses have all changed, and it’s hard for me to get to the group in person,” she explains. So now she joins the group by Zoom.

“I’m blind, so I get the audiobooks. Being in a group has meant I’ve read books I wouldn’t have dreamed of reading!” she says. “Reading different books educates you and broadens your thinking, and discussing them with people gives you different perspectives.”

Today's library reaches people with diverse needs

Joan in Bradford, meanwhile, benefits from being able to get library books delivered to her home. “I’m almost 90 years old, so I’m not able to get about as much these days,” she explains. “Getting my library books delivered has been an absolute lifeline - I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

Joan also benefits from titles chosen just for her by library staff. “Since Covid, the books have been chosen for us, and I’ve been amazed at how well they choose books for me. They can look back at what I’ve borrowed previously and judge what to pick for me. It’s been wonderful!”

For people less able to read books on their own, some libraries run shared reading groups that focus on reading aloud together.

York Explore's Reading Together programme invites participants to read aloud, listen to stories and take breaks for cups of tea. It’s an initiative that opens up the book group format to more people.

“Reading Together means people with, for example, visual impairments or dementia can get involved,” explains Reader Development Librarian, Wendy Kent. “There’s no commitment to reading between meetings, but they still get to gather with people and experience the health and wellbeing benefits.”

Tips for joining a library book group

  1. Check with your local library

    “When people join the library we tell them all about the different book groups that are available,” says Tracey from Westgate Library. If you’re already a library member you might not be up to date with what’s on offer, so it’s always worth calling them up or popping in to ask a member of staff what’s available.

  2. Be open to new stories and authors

    Being part of a group that reads the same book means you might need to step out of your reading comfort zone. Embrace the variety - you might find something you love that you wouldn’t have found on your own.

  3. No group nearby? Start your own!

    Ask at your local library if staff can help you get a group set up. Start small with a couple of friends, in a venue that is convenient for everyone. Then you can promote it locally if you want to add more numbers.