The Public Library as Therapeutic Landscape

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Brewster, L. (2014). The public library as therapeutic landscape: A qualitative case study. Health and Place, 26, (94-99).

This article examines the public library’s position as a safe place for those with mental health issues. The Sheffield, England, study gently poses questions to those suffering from varied mental illnesses and who also attend the library on a regular basis, and discovers the same outcome from all the interviewees: the public library is a haven promoting holistic healing through the access to books, a friendly staff, and the unhurried nature of the library itself, since it is not a commercial space. The study also considers various closings of libraries in the area, and how this affects the patrons. Their response is one of resounding worry—they feel at peace in these places, and when faced with closings, they are losing something special to them. They see the library as more than just a building, but a living space that provides respite from the stressors in their lives.

These participants also speak of the public library as empowering, specifically mentioning the free access to books, the ability to change their minds, the power of choice, and the supreme pleasure of educating themselves. Within the walls, the friendly nature of the staff comforts them, since they are always willing to help with their questions and oftentimes are aware of their mental illness. Still the most recurring theme in the study is the place itself, and the calm it gives them. The effect of bibliotherapy, of choosing novels and texts that resound with them, is amplified by the intrinsic nature of the building and what being inside the public library means to them.

This research and subsequent article offer a wonderful rallying cry for libraries and the work librarians want to do. It seems common sense to say the library is a safe place for people, but it has to be said. Librarians know the library is a peaceful, happy place, but for many others, troubled patrons, those without homes or good domestic situations, or as in this article, troubled minds, the library is more than that and provides a haven from those demons. One of the reasons bibliotherapy interests should be integrated into the public library is because it is a location free and open to all people. The beauty of that cannot be understated.

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