Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 111 – Reading as therapy

With all the bad news we have been hearing about libraries closing, services and staff being cut in a bid to save the almighty dollar, I have some good news for a change.

Libraries are getting a boost from an unlikely source. If this initiative can be rolled out, across Australia, we can (I hope) do several things:

1)      Raise functional literacy rates;

2)      Reduce the number of library closures;

3)      Improve the library services  on offer; and

4)      Reduce the need for certain types of medication.

If you have read my recent editions of Information Overload, I have been looking at some of the reasons why our functional literacy rates are poor here in Australia. Functional literacy rates are around 50% of the population. That means approximately half the population cannot read things like prescription bottles and understand what they are taking.

Well the health initiative I read about this morning, may take away the need for some people to have medication in the first place.

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald – the article talks about using books as therapy:

Using books as therapy or bibliotherapy as it is known, is not a new idea. Sigmund Freud used literature during psychoanalysis sessions with his patients and books were used to help soldiers recovering from physical and emotional trauma following the First and Second World Wars.

Now reading as therapy is set to enjoy a resurgence. In May, a new pilot program, Books on Prescription, will launch in libraries across the Central West area of New South Wales. Under the scheme, funded by a $71,000 library development grant, GPs and other health professionals will be able to recommend self-help books on prescription from around 14 public libraries for people dealing with a variety of psychological issues.

“Books on Prescription is a highly effective way of helping people with common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders” says Jan Richards, Central West libraries manager in Orange. “There is first class clinical evidence to show that books can be just as effective as other forms of therapy.”


… the concept for the scheme came from the UK’s Books on Prescription program where doctors can prescribe self-help books or mood-boosting works of literature to treat those suffering from mild to moderate mental illness. [Richards], hopes the Central West’s Books on Prescription scheme “will complement traditional medicine and that in partnership with the medical community we’ll be able to provide positive health outcomes.”

UK research has found that reading is more relaxing than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent. Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis from the consultancy Mindlab International found that reading silently for just six minutes, slowed the heart rate and eased muscle tension in research volunteers.

In Victoria, Susan McLaine, project coordinator at the State Library of Victoria, has been developing the State Library’s Book Well program since 2010. She says that whilst there are similar Books on Prescription schemes at different stages of development in Australia there is no state-wide or national model.

Read more:

After listening to the debate on funding for the culture and the arts at the recent political forum (the West Australian election is on the 9th March) it is wonderful to know, that some of our colleagues will be given a boost in funding rather than being asked to find ways to cut costs.

What do you think of this initiative? Will it help libraries survive?