Seeking Comfort in Libraries

LibraryShelter

Every day, library workers are quietly changing and saving lives. As well as providing informal mental health and wellbeing support, they are raising national literacy levels, supporting families and reaching out into their communities to make them stronger and more cohesive. Now picture what your communities would be like without those library workers. For many people they are literally the last line of mental health defence. (…) As a nation, we are not only haemorrhaging libraries but the highly experienced people who work in them. If we lose library workers, we are at risk of completely abandoning those people in our communities who just need someone to talk to, someone non-judgmental who can offer a helping hand, or maybe just a patient ear. Formalising what was once informal social care is expensive, and so is the failure to support mental health, and that will cost us all a great deal more than investing in library workers ever would.

Reading this article by the Guardian broke my heart. I’m not sure what it is exactly about the surroundings of a library or a bookshop that feels so comfortable– comfortable enough to make people feel so at ease to open up to someone they don’t even know or just find shelter.

I worked for over 10 years as a manager of a small academic library and although I’m probably the last person qualified to solve people’s problems, kids in the department used to joke around and say my office was the shrink. A big chunk of my daily time was spent talking to students who came in not really looking for anything in particular. All they wanted was to sit and talk– talk about their dreams, interests, plans, problems or vent about this and that. Adding a mini fridge stocked with juice and water proved successful. Every now and then a student walks in with an unhappy expression or in tears and it’s always the same– grab the tissue box, juice from the fridge, and let them talk.

It made me happy knowing the library made someone’s day feel a little better in some way or another. I guess that’s one thing I miss the most when I look back. A much bigger study area is always available nearby but students would still choose ours simply because “it’s more comfortable here”.

During my summer breaks, on days when I just need want to get away and sit someplace comfortable myself I would go to the nearest bookshop. I don’t have to buy anything. I feel happy just sniffing new books, browsing titles, or sitting at the bookshop coffee shop.

It’s one thing I really really miss here as well. I still haven’t found my ‘bookshop’ or ‘library’ shelter yet, although I’ve taken serious initiatives to experiment and look for one.

That’s one thing an online bookshop or a library can never substitute.

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