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.

Some tips for improving staff wellbeing


  • Make it possible for staff to achieve a reasonable work-life balance by taking regular breaks, not working or emailing outside of their regular hours, and not coming into work when sick.
  • Encourage managers to set a good example by doing the above themselves.
  • Set realistic deadlines and allow staff to pace themselves.
  • Actively observe colleagues and notice any unusual patterns.
  • Deal with any concerns as soon as they arise.
  • Offer staff rewards and incentives.
  • Try to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about stress, pressure, and mental health.
  • Ensure staff know about the support that is available from the university and other organisations.
  • Make any wellbeing activities inclusive and accessible for all staff.
  • Ensure line managers encourage involvement in wellbeing activities.
  • Provide time at work for colleagues to get together informally e.g. having a coffee as a team.
  • Keep wellbeing activities fun.


  • Tolerate a negative workplace culture.
  • Just provide tokenistic events. Events should be part of an embedded effort to foster an environment in which wellbeing is a priority.
  • Minimise issues if someone opens up about them. What might seem small or trivial to one person might cause real distress for someone else.
  • Treat staff differently if they have any sort of disability, mental health issues or long-term health conditions.
  • Bombard people with information about wellbeing!

Student mental wellbeing in higher education: good practice guide (UUK report)

Image of publication cover

This key report from 2015 champions the Whole University Approach to mental health. Student mental health problems have a number of causes and require a joined-up approach to transform institutional cultures and embed mental health initiatives beyond student services.

Universities should aim to create a healthy learning and work environment for all by focusing on community, learning, living and support.

The full report is available here.

Not by degrees: improving student mental health in the UK’s universities (IPPR report)

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Since the early 1990s, there has been a rise in the prevalence of common mental health conditions amongst young people, particularly young women. This has coincided with a significant expansion in student numbers. A student is five times more likely to disclose a mental condition to their HEI than ten years ago. However, only 29% of universities have a mental health and wellbeing strategy and only 43% say that wellbeing is considered during course content and design.

Reasons that might explain this increase in disclosed mental health conditions include the lessening of societal stigma, the long-term underfunding of mental health care, and cuts to community-based services. For students, the academic experience has changed, with less contact time and an increased expectation that learning is ‘self-directed’. Other possible factors include increased financial pressures and the rise in the use of digital technologies.

Mental health and wellbeing issues are generally the remit of Student Services teams within universities but collaboration with other support services, students’ unions and academic departments is crucial. There should also be greater strategic leadership within universities, increased funding for support services, and better links with the NHS.

The full report is available here.

Student Minds

Image of Student Minds website

Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. It promotes student-led activities to tackle mental health issues and aims to supports university staff deliver on a ‘whole university approach.’ Their website includes a very useful series of guides and reports which make recommendations about how universities might create a more welcoming and supportive environment for students.

#stepchange: Mental Health in Higher Education

Image from #stepchange website

Since 2002, Universities UK (UUK) has hosted a standing group on Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education (MWBHE). The group produced the Student mental wellbeing in higher education: good practice guide in 2015 and, following this, UUK adopted mental health as a proactive policy priority in 2016, launching a programme to improve the mental health of students and staff across higher education. The #stepchange website includes a framework and checklist for university managers along with some useful research data.