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“If it helps just one person it will have been worth it”: Reading Well in universities

Image: UEA librarians holding Reading Well titles

In support of University Mental Health Day (7 March), we bring you a best practice roundup of Reading Well in UK universities.

Reading Well for University Mental Health Day

According to a recent study by the Centre for Mental Health, there has been an increase in mental health difficulties among further and higher education students. This research has shown that the specific factors affecting student wellbeing include academic demands, career anxieties and financial pressures in a period of significant transition and adaptation.

This year, University Mental Health Day – coordinated by Student Minds and UMHAN – is encouraging students to speak up about the unique challenges they face in order to make mental health a university-wide priority.

Read on to find out how Reading Well is playing a key role in this work by supporting students to understand their health & wellbeing using expert endorsed self-help reading.

New recruits

Libraries at the universities of Hull, East Anglia and Bristol have all recently signed up to deliver the Reading Well scheme, supplementing their existing student wellbeing initiatives such as relaxation spaces, Quiet Hour for those who may feel overwhelmed in busy environments, and pet therapy sessions.

Image: Reading Well displays + wellbeing activities at UEA and Bristol

At Hull, the library has even created a dedicated Reading Well area in its accessible yet discreet high demand area, with comfy seating by the window to make the space more inviting, and is holding a launch event on 7 March to publicise the collections:

"I think the Reading Well scheme is a fantastic idea and a real asset to the collection. The subject of mental health has become more and more of a pressing social issue in recent years and I believe it is important to have material available for students and staff at the University to reflect this.

The books that make up the Reading Well collection are broad in scope, interesting and incredibly useful. The area has been kitted out with comfy chairs and it is great to see it being used as a place of quiet introspection."Jack, Library Assistant, University of Hull

Expert endorsement

The Reading Well books are all endorsed by health professionals as well as by people with living with the conditions covered and their relatives and carers, known as experts by experience. This expert endorsement enables librarians to confidently and efficiently recommend the books to students as part of their broader health & wellbeing offer:

“Each of the [wellbeing activities] plays into the others and we are so grateful to have access to materials such as those around Reading Well – they make it possible for us, within the time limitations of our roles, to offer a level of support for our students.”Matthew Smith, Academic Librarian for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UEA

Similarly, for University of Bristol subject librarian Emma Place, the high quality of the Reading Well resources ensured by the scheme’s USPhealth professional involvement and endorsement – was a useful tool in acquiring the collections for the library and demonstrating how they align with campus-wide strategic priorities around mental health and wellbeing:

“It was essential to get buy-in and support from senior academic staff in the Health Sciences Faculty. To do this we emphasised the evidence base behind the scheme; the rigorous Protocol for Book Selection; and the impressive list of partners and supporters of the scheme. In an academic library it was important to stress that the scheme had a formal delivery model with clear boundaries, i.e. we were not creating a home-spun collection of self-help books, which could potentially prove unhelpful and contentious.”

A university-wide priority

Image: Reading Well collections at Bristol

As part of the push to integrate Reading Well into university-wide mental health strategy, libraries have been working collaboratively with student support services to signpost students to the books. At Bristol, UEA and Hull, student advisors, counsellors, GP surgeries and occupational health services are now recommending the Reading Well books and stocking the leaflets in their waiting rooms. They have highlighted the complementary role that quality assured self-help reading can play in encouraging students who are waiting to receive face-to-face support:

"When students seek support they have often mustered incredible strength and courage to share their personal circumstances with staff and they’re keen to capture this momentum to make changes in their lives. Reading Well provides the opportunity to get stuck in to something there and then.

Self-help is a key method of support in the current cultural climate as it encourages personal agency, builds self-esteem, resilience and gives people the confidence in their own ability to maintain their health and wellbeing. I consider Reading Well a key step in empowering people to develop their own plan for health and wellbeing."Amy Wilkinson-Tough, Faculty Student Advisor (Health Sciences), University of Bristol

“Reading Well is a fantastic resource for the UEA Wellbeing Service. It’s been invaluable to be able to refer to peer-reviewed self-help as a psychoeducational and therapeutic resource, and also, as demand is high for our service, to be able to signpost students to Reading Well to give them a head start while they are waiting for support from Wellbeing Advisers or our Talking Therapies team.”Jo Appleton, Wellbeing Adviser (Mental Health), Student Support Service, UEA

Beyond the campus

Reading Well also presents an excellent opportunity for public and university libraries to work together to promote the health benefits of reading.

Over the last few years, Coventry public libraries have been building bridges with Coventry University Library, taking advantage of national awareness campaigns such as International Women’s Day and LGBT+ History Month to introduce students to the benefits of the library service – including the Reading Well collections.

Most recently they made use of Movember and a concurrent Public Health England mental health campaign to set up shop near the entrance of the university library, engaging in discussion with passing students and encouraging them to join the public library service. On display were the Reading Well for mental health and Mood-boosting Books, alongside signposting information for local health services. As part of an arrangement with the university library, these public library resources remained on display for a further week and could be issued by the university during that period. The public library then returned the following week to talk to students, sign up new members and issue books.

“With the stresses of final year, it’s such a good way to switch off”

And librarians are noticing student impact already. According to Ceri Brettle, Libraries, Advice, and Health Information Development Officer at Coventry public library service:

“The response to the campaign was incredibly positive, and sparked a number of conversations about mental health. Additionally across the week many students borrowed Reading Well for mental health resources. In some cases this was to support themselves while they waited for appointments, in others they wanted to access the material simply to increase their own awareness and better support friends and family members.”

Meanwhile, Hull students have been asking directly for Reading Well resources after being signposted from student support and Bristol has seen 200 library loans in the first 4 months of stocking the collections, as well as requests from students to stock our Mood-boosting Books. One student has found the Personal Stories section of our Reading Well for mental health list particularly useful:

"I think it’s a great campaign – I am thoroughly enjoying the selection library has! I’ve just read Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig and have now taken out A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax.

I haven’t read for ages but am finding with the stresses of final year it’s such a good way to switch off, particularly at lunchtime when it’s so easy to keep working and doing admin."

Image: Reading Well collections at Bristol

It’s been a promising start for Reading Well in universities, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.

“The full benefit of these schemes is impossible to demonstrate, but we believe very strongly in the power of books to help people, and are very pleased to run the Reading Well schemes within our University Library collections. In truth, if it helps just one person it will have been worth it for me.”Emma Place, University of Bristol

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