Four recent papers about academic libraries and wellbeing

Image of ALISS Quarterly front cover

Last year, one of our Task & Finish Group members, Clare Hunter, graduated from Robert Gordon University via distance learning. Clare works as a Senior Information Assistant at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Her dissertation was about how academic libraries can support students’ mental health. Here, she highlights four recent articles which she found particularly relevant and which would serve as a great starting point for further reading in the subject. Clare’s dissertation (including a full list of references) can be downloaded here.

Ramsey, E and Aagard, M.C. (2018). Academic libraries as active contributors to student wellness. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 25(4), pp. 328-334.


This paper provides a useful overview of the important role that academic libraries can play in the wellbeing of students. The authors look at previous research and refer to their own experience to identify the important qualities academic libraries have that could make them useful for supporting mental health and wellbeing. By using their role as trusted information providers and community centres, academic libraries can partner with other on campus agencies to effectively support wellbeing.

Robison, M. and Muszkiewicz, R. (2018). Whiteboards, Blanket Forts, and Autonomy: Using Self-Determination Theory to Improve Library De-Stress Programming. Public Services Quarterly, 14(4), pp. 309-328.


This paper focuses on initiatives that have been undertaken at Valparaiso University in Indiana, USA to help reduce stress in students. These have included ‘group scream’, ‘build your own blanket fort’, and punching bags. Interestingly, most of the de-stress initiatives were suggested and voted on by the students themselves. Focus groups conducted by the authors found that students liked the sense of agency that choosing their own activities gave them and were more likely to attend programs they personally suggested or voted for.  Hosting the activities also increased positive perception of the library.

Cox, A. and Brewster, L. (2020). Library support for the student mental health and well-being in the UK: Before and during the pandemic, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 46 (6).


This paper looks at the changes that have occurred in mental health and wellbeing for students in the UK, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey the authors conducted found that prior to the pandemic much of the focus for wellbeing in libraries was on library-specific services such as a fiction collection or self-help books, whereas the pandemic has shifted this focus to the anxiety around e-resources. The authors also developed a model of library support for student mental health and well-being, based around eight principal aspects: inherent library value, library services impact, wellbeing as a library service, detection, hosting, signposting, library as a good partner, and library staff wellbeing.

ALISS Quarterly, 14(2). Special issue: Wellbeing and Libraries

This special issue highlights initiatives for improving staff and student wellbeing from several different UK universities. It is a good starting point if you are looking for simple and interesting ideas for how your own library can begin to support wellbeing.

Library staff wellbeing during the lockdown: a case study from QMUL

Paula Funnell, Faculty Liaison Librarian at Queen Mary University of London, describes the efforts made by her library to keep staff engaged during the pandemic.

During the first national lockdown everyone was suddenly thrust into working from home, sometimes without the necessary tools and equipment and often with children or family members also at home. Others were locked down alone and felt isolated; anxiety and stress levels were high.

Queen Mary University of London Library’s Staff Development & Wellbeing Group wanted to provide staff with activities to give them time away from work duties, as well as focusing on opportunities to stay connected to colleagues at a time when everyone was apart.

Wellbeing afternoon

Our first organised activity was an afternoon event to replace part of our usual annual staff conference, the afternoon of which always focuses on wellbeing.

We used breakout rooms in Zoom to enable icebreaker activities and to put people in teams to do a quiz. This enabled members of staff to interact with colleagues that in many cases they hadn’t had any contact with during lockdown, and for some new members of staff it gave them the opportunity to meet colleagues that they’d never even met!

Image of round from staff quiz

Through the group members, and thanks to contacts across the university, we were able to provide a choice of activities including cookery demonstrations, games, craft, meditation and yoga. Everyone who attended seemed to have a really good time and gave positive feedback.

Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Very enjoyable. Excellent sessions and the quiz was a great way to get us working with each other. Thanks!"
Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Amazing. I had so much fun today, your round the world quiz was really great."

Wellbeing activities programme

Following on from the success of the wellbeing afternoon it was decided that during the summer months we should offer a regular programme of activities. We ran activities twice over a two week period to enable as many staff to attend as possible. These included similar events to those provided as part of the wellbeing afternoon, such as mindfulness meditations, quizzes and cookery demos.

Screen image of member of staff giving cookery demo

Although attendance at these events wasn’t high, they provided a good opportunity for staff to take a break from work activities and come together with colleagues. They were very much appreciated by those who attended.

Weekly coffee breaks

Alongside the programme of events it was decided to also provide weekly 30 minute coffee breaks. These allowed staff the opportunity to connect in an informal setting for some down-time and just catch up with colleagues.

The autumn term

The regular wellbeing events paused during the autumn term as many front-facing staff were back on campus, and other staff were particularly busy with getting resources online, student inductions, and information literacy teaching sessions. We did run an online festive event and made use of a variety of online tools to make it as interactive as possible, including Zoom breakout rooms, Padlet and Socrative. The afternoon comprised of a festive traditions icebreaker, a “who’s the baby?” quiz, a Christmas-themed team quiz, and “best seasonally decorated object / person / space” competition.

Photograph of dog dressed in Christmas outfit for best seasonally decorated object/person/space competition with text which says "Marley getting into the festive spirit!"

The formal activities were followed by the chance to meet and chat informally using another new tool recently discovered by a member of Library staff, This provides the closest virtual equivalent to mingling.

Again, those attending really enjoyed the activities.

Positive feedback from library staff: Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to make a really nice afternoon for us all. I thought it was a lovely couple of hours and very well put together." And: "A huge thank you for organising the excellent online Christmas party last week - it was brilliant!"

Finally, in the week before Christmas, once everything had started to calm down, we ran a couple of Christmas-themed wellbeing sessions: a truffle making demo and an informal lunch chat with a game of bingo.

Moving forward

With many staff continuing to work remotely and facing increased stress and anxiety, the need for continued wellbeing provision continues. The aim is to continue with regular coffee breaks, to provide staff with informal opportunities to connect with colleagues, and to sometimes include an additional wellbeing activity such as a game, quiz, or mindfulness meditation. It is hoped that our wellbeing programme will continue to evolve over time to best meet the needs of our Library staff.

An interview with Liz Brewster

Photograph of Liz

Liz Brewster is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Education at Lancaster University and has written extensively about student wellbeing and bibliotherapy. In the summer, Emma Fitzpatrick and Pete Williams from the Wellbeing Task and Finish Group caught up with Liz over Microsoft Teams to talk about how library collections can promote good mental health and what academic libraries can do to support student wellbeing.  

Liz had lots of interesting things to say. You can read the full interview here.

Object-led wellbeing at Central Saint Martins

The Museum and Study Collection at Central Saint Martins has been able to build upon its long-established practice of object-based learning to provide object-led wellbeing activities for both students and the wider community. Read about it here.

You can also hear Judy talk in more detail about object-led wellbeing in this video:

Reading Well: finding resources for a wellbeing collection

Emma Fitzpatrick, Serial and Digital Resources Co-ordinator and member of the Wellbeing Collection team at Senate House Library, explores the Reading Well book lists curated by The Reading Agency and explains how they can help you find books and resources for your collection.  

For libraries thinking of starting a wellbeing collection, it is not always clear where to begin looking for resources. Reading Well, a campaign from the Reading Agency, offers lists of books chosen by health professionals and people with lived experience of the conditions covered in the reading lists. They have curated five book lists, all freely available, focusing on the following topics: 

Reading Well for mental health 

Reading Well for young people 

Reading Well for children  

Reading Well for dementia 

Reading Well for long term conditions 

Reading Well poster: 'Find helpful reading at your local library'

Reading Well also provides lists of what they refer to as Mood-boosting Books. These lists are designed to promote reading for pleasure and relaxation. The lists are mostly made up of fiction, poetry and some non-fiction titles which readers found uplifting. The books on these lists are recommended by readers and reading groups.  

The Reading Well scheme is widely used by public libraries to offer support for people suffering from common physical and mental health problems. The books on these lists form part of the Books on Prescription service which allow GP to “prescribe” books to patients to help support their recover. Individuals can also discover these titles using the Reading Well website or by visiting their local library.   

There are many titles on the Reading Well book lists which would be of great help to university library users seeking support for their wellbeing. The lists are also a great source of information and a good starting point for any librarians thinking about starting a wellbeing collection or looking for ways to use their library’s existing collections to support the wellbeing of their users.  The Reading Agency has recently produced a helpful guide for colleges and universities looking to get involved in Reading Well.

Reading Agency poster: 'Books to help you feel better'

I am part of the team at Senate House Library who have been working for the last year to build a Wellbeing Collection to support our users. When we were searching for resources, we found the Reading Well lists extremely helpful. It was wonderful to have lists of books curated by health and wellbeing professionals and recommended by readers, which focus on many of the different physical and mental health difficulties that influence our overall sense of wellbeing. The lists really helped us to find themes to focus on and start building a successful collection.

I am pleased to say that we launched the SHL Wellbeing Collection in February 2020 and so far it has been very well received. We hope to continue growing the collection and exploring new ways to support wellbeing in the library over the next year.