Bibliotherapy in public libraries


I’d never given bibliotherapy much thought until I read John Crace’s article in the Guardian at the weekend about his meeting with Ella Berthoud, a bibliotherapist or book doctor. Ella listens to John talk about his life and books he has read and then recommends a list of books for him to try – a reading cure.

Listening to people in the library I’m aware that many of them have found comfort in reading, saying that it’s helped them get through difficult times, particularly bereavement. But usually the reading takes the form of escapism and the books most people seem to turn to are romances or thrillers. I can understand this and it would probably be the first thing I’d do in that situation.

But Berthoud talks about “books that offer rewards through the quality of the writing and parallels with the reader’s life”, and this is a different kind of therapy. However, unless you’re in the habit of reading literary novels then it’s going to be harder for you to make the extra mental effort at a difficult time in your life.

The Reading Agency’s new scheme, Reading Well Mood-boosting Books, aims to promote up-lifting titles recommended by readers and reading groups, but when we opened the boxes of new books at work, our first reaction was that they were just the sort of books most of our borrowers wouldn’t like! They are not brightly coloured or obviously cheery books (in fact their covers are nearly all dreary and dull) and it did cross my mind that the library budget could be better spent.

But perhaps I’m missing the point – these are just the kind of books we should be encouraging people to read to boost their moods. So I’m going to try to make a bit of an effort with them and as I’ve read and loved several of them myself (The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers are wonderful novels), it shouldn’t be impossible!


4 thoughts on “Bibliotherapy in public libraries

  1. Tommy Kovac

    I LOVE bibliotherapy, and believe it to be one of the finer points of our jobs, for those of us who work in libraries and do reader’s advisory. Finding just the right book(s) that are going to resonate with a patron and make them feel validated and less alone is pretty rewarding. I work with teens, and I love getting the opportunity to put a book in their hands that I think maybe they NEED to read for one reason or another. Some of the kids I’ve explained bibliotherapy to have even come back later and said, “I need some bibliotherapy…” I’ve even had kids email me after they’ve graduated, asking for bibliotherapy suggestions! And then the pressure is really on, let me tell you! 😉

  2. anexactinglife

    I haven’t heard about bibliotherapy with adults. Over here some hospitals have a Child Life Specialist who helps families deal with a child’s serious illness or medical condition. They use picture books, either fiction or nonfiction, to help the child name their feelings and for families to bond over. It’s too bad the adult titles aren’t more appealing-looking!

    1. blackcountrylibrarian Post author

      Yes, I think I had associated it more with children going through traumas. I wonder if it’s used for adults in hospitals too. These books do look seriously unappealing – not likely to tempt people away from their favourite genres!


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