Self management and the public library: Co-Creating Libraries for Wellbeing

Written by: Lara Murray, the ALLIANCE

Published: 05/05/2020

Lara Murray, Co-Creating Libraries for Wellbeing Project Manager, reflects on the recently published Health on the Shelf report.

The recently published Health on the Shelf: Health and Wellbeing in Public Libraries in Scotland (this link will take you away from our website) demonstrates the number of services currently available in our communities and reminds us that public libraries are well placed to support people in their health and wellbeing. They are free to access, open to everyone and with a remit to provide equity of access to information, including helping people living with long term conditions by supporting a self management approach.

Since October 2018, the ALLIANCE has been a partner in the Co-Creating Libraries for Wellbeing Project, funded by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) Public Library Improvement Fund (this link will take you away from our website). Working with partners in Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government Digital Health and Care Directorate and library services in Midlothian, North Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire, we are working to establish a framework for co-designing library services for health and wellbeing with members of the community and across sectors.

In 2008, the ALLIANCE worked with partners across sectors and with members of the public to develop Gaun Yersel’: The Self Management Strategy for Long Term Conditions in Scotland. In this strategy, a key principle of self management is: “Clear information helps me make decisions that are right for me.”

Building on these foundations, this year the ALLIANCE committed to working together with partners across health and social care, the third sector and libraries in A Collective Force for Health and Wellbeing (this link will take you away from our website): a collective strategic action plan for transformative approaches to health and wellbeing in Scotland. Building on the principle of clear information, the ALLIANCE now commits to “Strengthen the role of libraries in all sectors as sources of quality assured, evidence-based health and wellbeing information” amongst other actions.

The Co-Creating Libraries for Wellbeing project is an important example of the possibilities created by the action plan and the outcomes are ambitious. By developing three pilots to be real world examples of cross-sector working, co-design principles and the library as a key partner in Scotland’s health and wellbeing, we are working towards the following transformative strategic outcomes:

  • Senior healthcare leaders are more committed to involving library services as partners in service transformation
  • Library staff are more involved at strategic and service level to meet local priorities
  • Healthcare professionals, library staff and the third sector have a better understanding of each other and how to work together
  • Librarians are more integrated into healthcare teams
  • Library staff have new skills to support self-management
  • Healthcare professionals better understand the role librarians can play in supporting self-management

The Health on the Shelf report highlights the co-production element of the Co-Creating Libraries for Wellbeing project. An example of where we seek to meet the broader strategic outcomes above, we have been working with groups of young people in each of the three pilot areas (Midlothian, North Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire) supporting them to design meaningful services to support their mental wellbeing. Rather than designing a service for young people, this project takes a self management approach. Acknowledging that “I am a leading partner in managing my health” (another principle of self management) is important to ensuring people using services feel in control of their health and have a sense of ownership over the services available to them. Working with young people has been particularly enlightening part of this project as they have all demonstrated significant knowledge of the services already in existence and are articulate in describing their need and identifying local gaps.

The young people have agreed to continue to be involved throughout the lifetime of the pilots and to support in the evaluation. Health on the Shelf refers to the difficulty evaluating many of the health initiatives in libraries due to the qualitative rather than quantitative nature of the work and that information gained may be of benefit to people at a later date rather than at the time the service is accessed. In our project we are working to develop a report and resources that can be utilised as a tool to designing services in this way. The legacy of this project will be in strengthening the role of the library as a key community health resource, in adding to Scotland’s examples of co-produced services, and in ensuring self management is a core principle of health and wellbeing services.

As we work in these uncertain times of physical distancing and social isolation, and with our health and social care services under increased pressure, it is clearer than ever that libraries and the third sector are key partners in the delivery of health and wellbeing services in Scotland. As demonstrated in Health on the Shelf, there is already a significant amount of support available through our libraries and SLIC continue to gather examples of digital library services that can be accessed from home (this link will take you away from our website).

Working together, we can provide a range of support to people in the place that works best for them and puts them at the heart of services.

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