Friday, 18 January 2008


Elizabeth Brewster
Last year SINTO set up the SINTO Bob Usherwood Prize to be awarded to a student of the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield. The prize will be awarded to the postgraduate dissertation that makes a significant contribution to improving professional practice or understanding related to co-operation and partnership working across sectors in the SINTO area. The aim of the prize is twofold. First it will to encourage students to explore research topics that would be of value to local professional practice. Second it will encourage practitioners to take more interest in library research in general and the work produced by students from our local "library school" in particular. We wanted to avoid being parochial with this prize so although it will be given to a dissertation that is relevant to practitioners in our area that does not mean that it has to be about our area. This is demonstrated in our first award to Elizabeth Brewster for her dissertation Medicine for the Soul: bibliotherapy and the public library.
Bibliotherapy is using either fiction or non-fiction advisory texts to help people understand and deal with mental and physical health problems, primarily mild mental health difficulties including mild to moderate depression. The research revealed that the scheme Books on Prescription has been widely utilised by libraries as a form of bibliotherapy using self-help books. Librarians often feel that they provide informal bibliotherapy via reader development and readers’ groups. Research was carried out in a number of library authorities including several in our area. The study investigates the experience of bibliotherapy in the public library from the staff perspective. The impact of creative and self-help bibliotherapy are examined, and significant conclusions about the views of public librarians on partnership working, mental health, social inclusion and reader development are presented. The importance of partnership working is highlighted. The health service does not always recognise that the library service has assistance to offer within the sphere of treatment, and so wider publicity and advocacy may be necessary to improve perceptions and relationships. Careful consideration needs to be given to the suitability of potential partners and the timing of projects to ensure that relationships are successful, and are not undermined by external forces, such as the reorganisation of Primary Care Trusts.
Many public library staff felt that bibliotherapy schemes were of great benefit both to patrons of the library, and to the library itself. It was thought that bibliotherapy helps to reduce the stigma connected with mental health problems, as well as contributing to the social inclusion and healthy communities agendas.
Elizabeth concludes that: "Whether it is the pragmatic approach of self-help bibliotherapy, teaching people to cope with emotions and problems, or the journey of self-discovery that can be found within a fiction book recommended by a creative bibliotherapist, libraries have a role in providing the staff, services and structure that can benefit the population. Public library work has always reflected the desire to address the social responsibility inherent in their function, and bibliotherapy schemes have the potential to make a real difference in this respect, providing ‘medicine for the soul’ in diverse and accessible ways to the whole community". The dissertation will be of interest both to those authorities which run a Books on Prescription service and those which don't but are thinking of introducing one.It will also be of interest to anyone involved in partnership working with external agencies on any project. SINTO congratulates Elizabeth on winning the first SINTO Bob Usherwood prize.
For information about other dissertations from the Department of Information Studies go to their Publications database.
The Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society web page has a list of PhD Theses and Students' masters Dissertations relevant to the theme of public libraries and information in society. Many of these are available in full text on-line.

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