Could libraries help us tackle loneliness?

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Feb 5, 2021

Could libraries help us tackle loneliness?

A £3.5 million award to The Reading Agency has injected new life into libraries’ mental health and wellbeing programmes

For those who are struggling with their mental health, reading can be a lifeline – offering escapism, comfort, and hope. In their prime, libraries were often a hub of community life, but – as findings from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy revealed in 2020 – since 2010, more than 800 libraries across Britain have been closed, with a 29.6% decline in spending.

Libraries offer community cohesion, an opportunity to explore culture, access research resources, get lost in stories, and – vitally – support wellbeing, making this decline a worrying trend. But a timely financial award is about to inject new life into essential services.

“Libraries are often the heart and soul of local communities and a real lifeline to so many people who may feel lonely or isolated,” says Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Libraries said, speaking alongside the announcement that national charity The Reading Agency has been awarded a fund that will allow it to combat loneliness with its new campaign, Read, Talk, Share.

Supported by a £3.5 million award by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the new campaign builds on the work of two existing programmes: Reading Well – which supports people with their mental health by recommending books by health experts, and those with lived experience, which cover their conditions – and Reading Friends, which brings people together to talk about books and exchange ideas.

Reflecting on how the programmes helped them, 90% of Reading Well users said that their book recommendations were helpful for understanding and managing their conditions, while 83% of people who took part in Reading Friends reported feeling more connected to other people. And these programmes are set to continue in lockdown, with books available as click-and-collect and e-lending from later this month.

It’s hoped that the financial award will help provide training and resources, allowing for a further 75 libaraies to be able to offer these services.

“The ongoing Covid-19 crisis' impact on the country’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing cannot be underestimated, and our Reading Well and Reading Friends programmes are perfectly placed to assist the nation in recovery,” says Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency. “Our mission remains to help people tackle life’s challenges through the proven power of reading, and to bring people together, ease our burdens, and foster wellbeing and understanding.”

A survey in April 2020 by the ONS found that 30.9% (7.4 million) adults reported that their wellbeing had been affected by loneliness in the past seven days. Beyond that, this winter has been tough, with restrictions lingering, and the one year anniversary of the beginning of lockdown looming in the distance.

It’s at times like these that the support of our communities and networks is vital, and campaigns that bring people together are more needed than ever before.

Find out more about Read, Talk, Share by heading to

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