Reading and libraries for well-being

A growing body of research suggests that reading for pleasure contributes to well-being. There are a number of ways school libraries can also support well-being, including developing spaces, services, and collections that help young people develop good emotional, social, physical, and mental health.

Mystical view of library, looking up to the ceiling which is a sky, with clouds, sun and circling birds
Image by Mysticsartdesign. CC0 1.0

What is well-being?

Well-being, in its broadest sense, reflects a person’s ability to develop good emotional, social, physical, and mental health. In addition, well-being encompasses feeling safe, supported, and encouraged.

There is an increasing focus on well-being across New Zealand, with additional emphasis on the well-being of children and young people. Education sector programmes, resources, and projects are also being developed and implemented to help New Zealand primary and secondary schools support well-being. The school library, in particular, can play a critical role in schools supporting well-being.

Creating space for well-being

School libraries can be a place for well-being by providing a welcoming, inclusive, and relaxing environment that supports students in different ways. The library can be a place that students can visit to calm the mind and refocus in the midst of a busy school day. Given our technology-rich lives, there are times when it’s healthy to leave the screen behind, sit somewhere comfortable, and enjoy a good book. For school libraries, this means creating spaces for relaxing and comfortable reading.

Nicola Morgan, a UK author and expert on teenage brains and mental health, has coined the term 'readaxation'. George Watson’s College library took this idea and developed a Readaxation Resort, which is something you might like to try in your own school.

Jackie Child comments on other ways that school libraries can support student well-being by providing '… a gathering place to talk; share ideas, skills and stories; play with Lego; play or listen to music; and build relationships with peers, teachers and facilitators.'

Creating spaces where students can pursue their curiosity, interests, and increase their confidence through fun activities is where libraries shine. Such spaces can be makerspaces, tinkering tables, or even an ideas incubator. The emphasis here is on enjoyment, relaxation, and feeling supported.

What do your students want in their library space to help them explore things they are interested in?

Benefits for the mind

Reading for pleasure has many benefits for students’ well-being including relaxation, sleeping better, and calming the mind. School library collections can centre around reading for pleasure, which has many benefits for students’ well-being. Libraries can support and encourage reading for pleasure with a diverse and inclusive print-rich collection that meets students interests and needs:

  • Reading to see yourself — stories that reflect you and your life, giving you an emotional connection with the characters and situations that are familiar.
  • Reading to meet others — stories that introduce the world from other perspectives, different voices that encourage you to empathise with others.
  • Reading to escape — stories that take you away to another place, time, or dimension and give you ‘time out’ from the daily grind.

School library services supporting reading for well-being can extend across the school community. Promote the benefits of reading for pleasure to staff, students, and whānau. For inspiration, see the Canadian National Reading Campaign infographic promoting the message that six minutes of reading a day can make a difference.

Promoting and supporting well-being is an important way your school library can contribute to the holistic development of staff and students.

What might you do to start a well-being programme in your library?

Find out more

Register for one of our upcoming Harnessing the power of school libraries for learning and well-being events. This one-day learning event for school library staff and teachers explores the impact of effective library services and environments on outcomes for students. You'll learn advocacy skills and strategies to maximise the impact of your library on student learning and well-being in your school.

Find out more or register for an event near you

The Education Review Office has several good resources on well-being for schools:

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research provides strategies for making a difference to student well-being.

Nicola Morgan's The Reading Brain is aimed at any adults interested in the science and benefits of reading.

TKI's Well-being, hauora also provides a range of resources around well-being.

By Maxine Ramsay

Maxine is a Facilitator (National Capability) with Services to Schools based in Dunedin.

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