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"Bibliotherapy in the Public Library: An Analysis of the Concept and Recommendations for Practice." M. Wideman. I. Ruthven. Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde. 2019. Download PDF (BibTeX) ILS

Bibliotherapy, generally understood as the use of literature to support mental health, is practised in various ways in different settings. In the United Kingdom, the public library is the primary facilitator of bibliotherapy. The practice has wide applicability across a range of health issues, as well as many enthusiastic advocates. However, the literature is riddled with confusion regarding various issues, including what is and what is not bibliotherapy, who it is meant for, and what kind of materials should be used in the practice. The ambiguity of the term, ‘bibliotherapy’, and the divergent ways the term is used, further exacerbate the confusion. The literature also lacks clarity as to the role of the public library in the provision of bibliotherapy.

This extended literature review seeks to address the confusion, firstly by investigating different definitions and conceptualisations of ‘bibliotherapy’, and secondly by exploring the role of the public library in bibliotherapy provision. To gain a comprehensive understanding, academic literature from various disciplines is reviewed, key issues and oppositions are identified and analysed, and multiple perspectives are incorporated into a critical narrative.

Analysis revealed that ‘bibliotherapy’ has been defined and conceptualised in a multitude of ways. Restrictive conceptualisations often limit its use to clinical/formal settings, while the most inclusive conceptualisations allow it to be used by anyone, anywhere. Bibliotherapy was found to be an expansive concept, encompassing a wide variety of practices and approaches. Literature used ranges from fairy tales and poetry to informative self-help manuals; from multimedia to service users’ own writings. All approaches and types of literature have their uses. Experiences of bibliotherapy have been predominantly positive, yet there are some concerns to be aware of. Depending on perspective, bibliotherapy may be seen as supportive and empowering, or as a means of shifting responsibility from the society to the individual.

The public library can offer a wide array of bibliotherapy services, ranging from casual reader guidance to reading groups. However, to be able to serve as wide a population as possible, the public library needs to collaborate with health care professionals. When facilitating bibliotherapy in the public library, awareness of service users’ needs is key. Different approaches and different types of literature should be adopted and used, and service users’ circumstances and needs must be considered with compassion and understanding. Awareness needs to be promoted to reduce stigma and prejudice.