North Somerset library service has skillfully woven Reading Well into its existing health initiatives and partnerships, enhancing its offer for older people and increasing awareness of the scheme among key stakeholders such as Alzheimer's Society and public health professionals within the local council.
North Somerset libraries have been signed up to Reading Well since the programme was first launched in 2013, and stocks all four Reading Well booklists.
Service provision for older people is a priority for the library service, where all staff are trained as Dementia Friends and regularly signpost users to other community resources such as Memory Cafés. The Reading Well scheme sits comfortably alongside the rest of this offer.
For example, the Reading Well for dementia booklist has been integrated into the library service's Memories Shared initiative, a digital reminiscence project where historic images of North Somerset have been digitised and stored on tablets. Primarily designed for home library service customers, Memories Shared aims to improve the wellbeing of older people and those living with dementia through encouraging them to share memories about the local area, as well as building confidence and breaking down barriers to ICT. During visits to housebound readers and residential homes with the tablets, volunteers and library staff bring along Reading Well for dementia leaflets and encourage people to visit the collections at the library.
Local partner engagement
North Somerset library service also works closely with Alzheimer's Society to promote Reading Well to both users and public health professionals.
Libraries hold Alzheimer's Society publications and the two organisations have collaborated on relevant events, such as Dementia Action Week (May 2018) and Families United Against Dementia (August 2018) where Reading Well leaflets were shared with the public.
One library staff member has experience of caring for a family member with dementia and now uses their role as a volunteer representative for Alzheimer's Society to promote the benefits of reading and libraries for health and wellbeing:
"Now as a local volunteer representative for the Alzheimer's Society whenever I'm at public speaking, fundraising events or public health group meetings I'd always mention about the [Reading Well] Dementia scheme. In fact I always have some leaflets in my bag."
The partnership has also led to the promotion of the scheme at a local GP practice, where Reading Well for dementia leaflets and are displayed alongside a 'memory wall' displaying information about local services for dementia.
Public health engagement
As well as promoting Reading Well to library users, North Somerset libraries have recently trialled a more targeted promotional strategy that has enabled the service to showcase how the scheme aligns with local government health priorities.
While in previous years they have held a small public launch event to showcase each new list, for the latest Reading Well for mental health booklist they held an event for a small list of council staff stakeholders only. Advocating for the scheme through these local authority networks has proved successful in building relationships with health professionals and opening doors to potential funding opportunities.
"There was a good turnout at our internal sharing session at the council. Colleagues from the vulnerable teens team, NHS team, and our Care Connect system attended. Other colleagues attended out of their own interest or who were supporting other people with conditions... These are great connections to establish - people are very interested and are giving us lots of follow up opportunities... The council has a priority on health and wellbeing and it's great that we can concretely show through our evaluation and statistics the impact of our work towards this."
They also emphasised how the quality endorsement of the lists, which are selected by a panel of health professionals and people with lived experience of the conditions covered, lends weight to the argument for Reading Well.
"The way Reading Well books are professional and focused on peer-reviewed books is very good. We emphasise that a lot in our talks and others appreciate it. One colleague who came to our session told me she's glad to see a book that she's been using for a long time on the list - it's good to get their approval."