Libraries for Health & Wellbeing: social cohesion and reducing loneliness
The quality of our social connections and relationships are a critical part of our health and wellbeing. According to research from 2017, being lonely and socially isolated can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking.
Last month I wrote about the role of public libraries in reducing loneliness and have been investigating the various ways in which Victoria’s public libraries are already doing this important social work. My first spotlight is on Swan Hill Regional Library.
There’s far more knattering than knitting happening at the library on Tuesday mornings, which is the sort of outcome you should expect from a program like this.
Knitter-Knatter is a regular social event held in the library, developed to create opportunities for community members to socialise while knitting or crafting. It has expanded into tabletop games (like Scrabble) and other activities that encourage social interaction and, in turn, improve the mental health and wellbeing of their community.
“Since the program began, most of us have gotten to be really good friends; we all look out for each other.”
Many of Swan Hill’s older residents live alone, with a significantly larger proportion of female residents experiencing higher psychological stress than elsewhere in Victoria.* Having programs like this delivered in the local library ensure residents have a safe and welcoming place to visit and not be alone.
The program responds to a critical strategy to address one of four priority areas as outlined in Swan Hill Regional City Council’s 2021–25 Municipal Health and Wellbeing Plan, which is to improve mental health wellbeing by bringing the community together and promoting social connection and participation through diverse, accessible and inclusive engagements.
“People have said ‘if I hadn’t have joined a group like this I dont think I would have stayed sane.’ You don’t realise the impact the communication and the socialising has meant to [the participants].”
Move & Groove
Among other social connection programs are the library’s Move & Groove and Baby Rhyme Time programs. Both provide fantastic opportunities for parents to get out of the house and engage with other parents (and grandparents!) while learning new rhymes and songs to help their child’s literacy development.
“It’s been amazing to be able to connect with other parents and families that we haven’t been able to [due to quarantine].”
The below video was produced with funding from the Libraries for Health & Wellbeing Innovation Grants Program (an initiative from State Library Victoria) to capture the social and mental health benefits of these beautiful library programs. (Credit to Mitchell Barkman Videography, and thanks to Camille Cullinan, Libraries Manager.)
It’s clear to me that when it comes to supporting the social and mental health needs of the community, libraries change lives.
Learn more about the role public libraries play in supporting the health and wellbeing of their communities in the Libraries for Health & Wellbeing strategic framework, developed by State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria, and keep an eye out for further posts spotlighting more great work being delivered in our public libraries.
(*as reported in the SHRCC Council Plan 2021–25)