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. 

Building your wellbeing collection: some things to consider when starting out

Emma Fitzpatrick, Serial and Digital Resources Co-ordinator and member of the Wellbeing Collection team at Senate House Library, looks at some of the key considerations when planning a wellbeing collection.

For a librarian setting out to build a wellbeing collection, a reading for pleasure collection or any collection aimed at offering wellbeing support to library users, one of the biggest and most important tasks is putting together the list of the books and resources that will go into it. This can be a difficult task, as there are many different aspects of wellbeing to consider and it is not always clear where to start looking for resources. This post considers some of the questions you will need to ask yourself when you put together a book list and start to build your collection.

Image of shelf of books which form part of the Reading for Pleasure collection at Birkbeck

Who can I partner with to help me find resources and build a successful collection? 

When putting together a book list for your wellbeing collection, consider if there are any other departments within your university or organisation which can recommend resources to you. Does your university have a specialised Wellbeing Service or a Counselling Service which can recommend books? Can Student Services or the Accommodation team recommend any resources? These last two departments may be able to offer resources on financial and housing problems which have a profound effect on student wellbeing but are often overlooked in wellbeing collections.

It is also worth considering if there is any way that you can link to these other services within your university to offer more support to users who need it. Perhaps a bookmark or postcard inside the book that has information on it about how to contact these services would work. If you are going to have a dedicated space for your wellbeing collection you could display posters nearby with information about where users can find help.

How can I involve students and library users in building my wellbeing collection?

Use social media or posters or postcards in the library space to ask for suggestions for books to be included. One approach is to ask users to recommend books which they have read to relax or relieve stress. This could be particularly helpful if you are building a reading for pleasure collection. Think about how you can get the students’ union, or other student-led organisations, involved.

Think beyond mental health 

Image of lightbulb to suggest thinking

Our mental health is of course central to our wellbeing but there are many other factors that affect wellbeing. Our physical health, for example, can have a profound impact on our wellbeing, as can our finances and our housing situations. Take a holistic view of wellbeing and try to include items that will offer support for the many different challenges to wellbeing. 

These could include books about budgeting for student, links to organisation that can help people manage their money, and resources to help with accommodation and housing problems 

Another dimension to consider is study skills. Your collection could include resources about essay planning, how to reference, or how to overcome procrastination. This is an area where libraries are already very good at providing information and training. 

You should also consider whether there is a way to use the study skills training that you already deliver to support wellbeing. There is growing evidence that the increased cost of higher education is making students feel more and more pressure to work hard and perform well. Failing to achieve the grade they were hoping for or feeling like they have not done as well as they could have, can have an adverse impact on wellbeing. Teaching students how to revise, plan essays or write bibliographies can contribute to students feeling more prepared and able to manage their workload.

Finally, you could include resources that support “digital detoxing” and healthy relationships with technology and social media.

Include e-books and online resources 

Image of student reading from laptop

This may seem like an obvious suggestion in the post Covid-19 world where so much learning and teaching has moved online but it is still worth mentioning. When we started putting together a list of books for our Wellbeing Collection at Senate House Library, we made sure that e-books were included from the outset. We also curated a list of online resources, including government-sponsored websites and material from charitable organisations such as Mind and Citizen’s Advice.

The initial idea behind our inclusion of online resources was to make our collection accessible to distance learners and to make sure that at least part of the collection would always be available even when the library was closed. We also wanted to provide a more discreet way of accessing wellbeing resources for users who might be reluctant to be seen browsing these books in the library space. 

However, this really worked in our favour when SHL was forced to close for several months during the Covid-19 lockdown. With the help of a tech-savvy colleague who manages our website we were quickly able to create a new page called the SHL Wellbeing Collection Online (link) and move across all the e-books and online resources. This meant that although our buildings were closed the collection was still there to support our users – as it continues to be as we emerge from lockdown.   

Think about what you already have 

The chances are that as you already have some great resources to support wellbeing in your collections. Your psychology or social sciences sections (if you have them) may already have books that can support users who are struggling with their wellbeing. Similarly, a literature section can be utilised – don’t discount the role of fiction and reading for pleasure in supporting emotional wellbeing. The chances are that you already have a treasure trove of books which could be used to support your users’ wellbeing. You just have to look at how to draw user’s attention to those books and how to encourage your users to read for pleasure and for relaxation.

Lightbulb image by Pixabay from Pexels.