One in six children has a mental health problem according to The Children’s Society, and in the last three years the likelihood of young people having mental health problems has increased by 50%.
That means in your typical class of 30 children, five could be struggling with their wellbeing.
It’s no wonder that schools are searching for ways to support their pupils’ mental and emotional health.
But could the answer already be there in the shape of your school library?
A new report – part of the Great School Libraries campaign run by CILIP (the Library and Information Association), CILIP’s School Libraries Group and the School Library Association – based on interviews with librarians, suggests the school library can boost pupils’ wellbeing in many ways.
The findings show there’s an abundance of support for children within the library walls.
Safety and comfort
When children were asked to draw pictures of their ideal library spaces, the common themes which emerged represented feelings of comfort and peace.
Children often use their school library as a refuge as well as a source of books.
Many schools design their libraries along the lines of a comfortable room at home and this can be particularly appealing to children who have difficult home lives, helping them feel safe at school.
As one librarian who was interviewed explained, “One of my main roles is to give the pupils somewhere safe to go.”
Someone to talk to
The relationship between pupils and their school librarian is often a positive one and some pupils feel they can approach their school librarian with problems, rather than a teacher or other adult.
A librarian said: “I am not as intimidating as a member of staff, so you find yourself talking to the pupils and they invest a lot more into you than maybe they would necessarily in a teacher.”
Given the right training, the librarian could be instrumental in spotting if a child is having wellbeing issues.
Fun and friendship
Many schools run programmes and clubs which are based in their libraries and these can support pupils’ emotional health in different ways.
Some libraries have reading groups to help younger or less able students improve their reading skills, or schemes where children take on tasks to help with the running of the library.
Other libraries host more informal groups such as chess or art clubs so children get to know the school library as a space with multiple uses.
One study participant said: “The reason that we run lots of different types of activities and events is to make sure that students who might not associate reading as a positive thing will still associate the library with something really positive.
Many adults benefit from mindfulness and the report suggests that some school libraries are running mindfulness groups for their pupils.
The library is often quieter than the classroom, making it the ideal place for children to leave their worries behind.
“I would just set up a mindfulness station and we’ve got activities and puzzles, anything just to calm their mind. And we’ve got breathing techniques and grounding techniques available for them to do.”
Children often benefit from reading material to help them understand their emotions and how to manage those feelings.
For older children who are able to seek help independently, the library can be a rich source of support.
One respondent mentioned her school library’s self-service system for books on mental health, meaning pupils don’t have to present the items they are borrowing.
This guaranteed anonymity helps reassure children they are not at risk of judgement from their peers.
With pupil wellbeing more important than ever, your school library can be a welcome source of support, offering children a safe space, new hobbies and a listening ear as well as a treasure trove of books.
Alison Tarrant and Caroline Roche are co-chairs of the Great School Libraries campaign. The report can be found here.