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.
Public libraries play a vital role in reducing loneliness and promoting social connection in communities. There a number of really simple but effective services they provide that are unlike any other institution. They are:
- A welcoming and inclusive space
This can be especially important for those who may feel isolated or lonely due to various reasons, such as living alone, being new to an area, or having limited mobility. Libraries can reach out to new residents through their council’s property services department, or partner with local real estate agents who will know when new residents enter the area.
- Opportunities for social interaction
These can include book clubs, discussion groups, community lunches and workshops, but can also be incidental, e.g. browsing in the same area or waiting in queue to use the photocopier. Chatty Cafes are another way of providing opportunities for the community to socialise, and some libraries in Victoria are already hosting them in their spaces.
- Access to resources and technology
Magazines and newspapers can help people stay connected with current events, preparing them to better participate in small talk. Access to computers and the internet also enables people to stay connected with friends and family overseas, and can help them make new friends or find community events. The Social Seniors program is a great example of a partnership program that improves the health and wellbeing of community through technology training.
- Support for marginalised/disadvantaged groups
Marginalised and disadvantaged groups may not be able to afford to attend social events (e.g. movie screenings, zoo trips, dinners). Libraries that provide free events in the evenings and weekends can help people participate in community life without spending money. The Libraries After Dark initiative inadvertently provides support for marginalised/disadvantaged groups by funding libraries to remain open on selected evenings, offering an alternative to pokies and other paid experiences/venues.
Overall, public libraries are an important resource for reducing loneliness and promoting social connection in communities. By providing a welcoming and inclusive space, opportunities for social interaction, access to resources and technology, and support for disadvantaged groups, they help foster a sense of belonging and connection among their community.
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.
(The quote at the top of this article was taken from the strategic framework – follow the link above for links to the research mentioned)