5 Ways Public Libraries Bring Positive Change to Communities

Staff at the William Patrick Library in East Dunbartonshire dressed up for World Book Day

During times of austerity, libraries are often the first service to be cut, but it is during such times that we need them most. To aid local governments in their decision making, we are asked to measure libraries’ worth in terms of book-borrowing statistics, computer usage, reference enquires, but we are never asked about their other value: as social hubs and lifelines for members of local communities.

There are many ways in which the local library can help bring positive change to its community.

They strengthen family ties

Libraries can bring families closer together in a peaceful and relaxed environment that isn’t in want of the contents of their wallets. Bookbug sessions, family storytelling and festive craft activities all play a part in this. My local library is home to a splendid glass cabinet which every month hosts a display of village residents’ collectables, ranging from Lego buildings and toy cars to Star Wars figurines and Russian dolls. The displays often encourage families to dig out their own forgotten toys and to share them with each other.

They bring people together

Libraries can strengthen relationships within communities, allowing users to build friendships

Libraries can strengthen relationships within communities, allowing users to build friendships with others through attending book or Knit & Natter groups. I have taken my library users on days out to visit other libraries or attend book festivals across the country, where the social aspect is as important as the literary value. Other initiatives include a Dad Crèche, allowing dads to meet other dads over a coffee as their children play in the library, and an 18-30 cultural club. We have also set up a community partnership with the charity Mary’s Meals and use our library as a base to hold an annual fundraising evening.

They help people with English as an Additional Language

Libraries can help support people with English as an Additional Language. Most provide books and audio books in a range of foreign languages, and many also provide bilingual resources to aid with learning a language. My Bookbug sessions often include songs in French and Polish, as well as Gaelic, and the social aspect of library involvement also aids communication. 

They can offer support for mental health

Many authorities work in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support to provide counselling to carers in the safety of the library

Libraries can help improve mental health, whether it’s just staff giving time to someone who is lonely and wants human interaction during their day, or through initiatives like Healthy Reading. I have held reading for wellbeing sessions, where members of the public can come and listen to a book being read aloud in a calm and relaxed environment, and reflect on any issues which may have been raised. The Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme has recently been introduced to our library service, and each library has a display of suitable books. Many authorities also work in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support to provide counselling to carers in the safety of the library.

They help create a digitally confident community

Libraries help reduce information poverty and the digital divide. Yes, everything might be online, but support from trained library professionals ensures that everyone can access online sources and find correct information, and many of our users approach staff for help in this area. Libraries offer free computer access and WiFi, as well as classes for those who need help to navigate the web - our library service has also recently offered a drop-in session to help people navigate our online library resources on their devices. In Aberdeenshire secondary schools, senior pupils are trained to tutor members of the public who are unfamiliar with PCs, ipads or smartphones, building relationships across generations. My library also works with the local Community Learning team to run a job club, offering resources to those seeking employment or training.

This is just a small fraction of the services libraries offer. They’re there for us through good times and bad, offering literature, information, culture, social opportunities and health benefits. They change lives, and we can’t afford to lose them.  

Jennifer has created a set of inspiring learning resources to explore Patrick Ness's books. You can find them here in our extensive resources section. She also ran a fantastic poetry slam project at Kemnay Academy - read about it here!

Jennifer Horan

Jennifer Horan is a Network Librarian in the Kemnay and Kintore area. She works in school and public libraries, and is a judge for the 2016/17 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. She has created a set of inspiring learning resources to explore Patrick Ness' novels for our site - you can find them here in our resources section.