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Library Lifeline part 19 How can my school library support pupil wellbeing?

04 Mar 2024

boy reading NF

As the importance of children’s mental health is increasingly acknowledged, teachers and librarians want to know how they can use the school library and reading spaces to promote pupil wellbeing.

We're delighted to share with you our latest blog in our series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association.

This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly.

If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

I know the school library helps our pupils with their reading for enjoyment and information literacy skills, but how important is it for their wellbeing?

Primary School Librarian

As Children’s Mental Health Week in February highlights, everyone needs a safe place in which to feel secure and calm. The school library is vitally important for children’s mental health, leading to improved chances in many areas of life, and in the National Literacy Trust’s Annual Literacy Survey, children described school and public libraries as ‘happy’, ‘warm’ and ‘peaceful’ places.

Why are school libraries so important for wellbeing?

Evidence continues to show a link between literacy engagement and mental health in children, and in homes and areas where children cannot access books readily, it becomes essential that their school library offers them the space and opportunity to engage with reading.

The School Library Association (SLA) last year published Establishing a Primary School Library* which takes those new to school libraries through factors to consider when revitalising your existing school library or establishing a new reading space in school. It offers practical advice on shelving, and bookstock, and stresses the need for development plans and goals. As well as considering the role the library plays in reading for pleasure or in the ability to teach information literacy, it considers its role in wellbeing.

What does the research say?

The National Literacy Trust's research shows that

  • Children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy have better mental wellbeing than their peers who are the least engaged
  • Children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged
  • Conversely, children who are the least engaged with literacy are twice as likely to have low levels of mental wellbeing than their peers who are the most engaged

With the National Literacy Trust further reporting that 3 in 5 children and young people found that reading helped them relax, nearly 1 in 2 said it made them feel happy, and 3 in 10 said it made them more confident or helped them deal with problems, the scope is significant for the school library’s potential to positively contribute to children’s wellbeing.

There is also evidence that mental wellbeing, such as the ability to cope with stress, can affect pupils’ ability to learn. Emotional wellbeing has also been linked to non-cognitive skills, such as resilience, grit, self-esteem, confidence, and motivation, which in turn may have a positive impact on pupil achievement.

The Reading Agency has produced The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment after research found that for children and young people the main outcomes reported were enjoyment, knowledge of the self and other people, social interaction, social and cultural capital, imagination, focus and flow, relaxation, and mood regulation. Improvements in young children’s communication abilities and longer-term education outcomes were also reported for early years children.

Four top tips to help you use your school library to foster wellbeing

Provide time and space to read

Maximise the impact of your school library by making time during the school day for children to visit the library. This will help your pupils foster that enjoyment of reading through being able to choose what they’d like to read in an environment which isn’t the classroom and is far calmer than the bustling playground.

Make sure stock is appealing

Children report using the library more when the titles stocked appeal to them or are interesting- pupils will actively turn away from the library if they perceive the materials available to them as uninteresting or unappealing. Capture their interest and attention in the library by ensuring that you hold appropriate stock. Reading fresh, contemporary, diverse voices that deal with topics that can be challenging, can help children cope with what is happening in their lives.

Offer diverse texts on a variety of issues

The Reading Agency’s Reading Well booklists, National Literacy Trust’s Wellbeing booklists, and EmpathyLab’s annual booklist can assist children managing with neurodiverse needs, or struggling over family problems, over identity of gender, sex or race, and allow others to become more empathetic.

Seek feedback and input from your pupils

Pupil voice is a vital part of a successful library. The sense that their opinions and suggestions are valued increases pupils’ feelings of ownership, and increases confidence and enjoyment in engaging with the space.

The SLA has partnered with Bounce Together which enables schools to survey pupils about their attitudes to reading to allow tailored interventions and strategies to help.

The SLA have produced a guideline publication on Pupil Wellbeing and Mental Health with a wealth of ideas. The school library can support wellbeing in such significant and joyful ways- do make the most of this opportunity which in the long run supports the mental wellbeing of the next generation.

*The SLA is delighted to offer NLT readers a 10% discount off Establishing a Primary School Library until 31 March 2024 using promotions code NLTPrimary10 when ordered through the SLA online shop.

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