Warwickshire libraries have been working with the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton to introduce a Library Book Vending Machine. Miranda McKearney attended the launch on 15 March. Here is a Warwickshire County Council news item on the venture followed by an excerpt from Miranda's speech.
The library comes to you
How great to be here for the launch of the Library Book Vending Machine - I just love the idea of the library coming to you when you're in hospital. And of books being there for you when you're at your most vulnerable: bringing the stimulation, escape, comfort and joy that is so badly needed when you're ill or worried about your health, or visiting someone you love in hospital.
This machine is a brilliant way to introduce patients, staff and visitors to reading and to the library. It's outside the pathology unit where there's a high footfall. There are 400 books in the machine but that's just a taster of the library's book stock, the tip of the reading iceberg, with the whole wide world out there.
Digital technology is massively changing how we read, and e-reading is a rapidly growing trend. Some commentators - do read Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid - say digital reading is even rewiring our brains. The Book Vending Machine is another technological intervention to spread reading. Congratulations to Warwickshire Libraries for taking such practical steps to reach out to spread reading, by partnering with this huge hospital, where there are 1800 staff and 245,000 patients.
Power of reading to help you feel better
There are huge problems, and costs, to society of people being unhappy, and suffering from mental health problems. Estimates vary, but around one in ten children are thought to have a mental health disorder and young people's well-being drops dramatically when they go to secondary school. 6m adults suffer from anxiety and depression. (Pictured left to right are Cllr June Tandy, Miranda McKearney, Cllr Jim Foster and David Carter, strategic director of the Resources Group).
But there is also a growing understanding of the role of reading in the context of health and well being. We are working with libraries to lead a drive to position reading as an alternative, cost effective strategy for keeping people well and happy, and linked to this, positioning libraries as a pivotal partner delivering preventative work to tackle society's massive health problems, through their heartland reading role.
There is a growing body of evidence support this work. Surrey University research found that reading can reduce stress levels by 67%. RNIB research shows that people with a visually impairment see reading as a total lifeline, the bedrock of their well being. Studies into bibliotherapy strategies like reading groups show that they can help combat depression.
We hope this health work, which we're planning in conjunction with SCL, will have a double benefit. It will use reading and libraries to make a real difference to people's lives, and it should help powerful new partners see what a vital, multi-faceted role libraries play, and that investing in a strong public library system is a really smart move, because it can help prevent social problems further down the line.
I recently met a 15 year old called Shauna who comes from one of the deprived wards we're working in through our Reading Activist programme. She was reading Joanna Trollope's Daughters in Law. It has a passage in which a woman experiences her depressive partners' mood as a dark mist seeping out from under the door, overwhelming the house. Shauna had found the experience of reading this transforming because her father was bi-polar and she'd never realised that anyone else experienced mental illness in that physically oppressive way, and it suddenly made her feel much, much less alone.
Since I've got an uncomfortable wadge of mental health issues in my family too, the novel powerfully opened up an intense sharing of our experiences; it was like slinging a rope bridge across the chasm of two very different lives, so we could reach each other.
Personal reading journeys
I want to finish by pointing you in the direction of a poem by Eavan Boland which I always read when I'm ill in bed because I find it so comforting. It makes me somehow feel all is well with the world. I find it quite hard to articulate exactly why it resonates so deeply with me, I think it somehow reminds me of when my children were still at home, and I'd be in the garden looking into the house.
Each of us have our own personal reading journeys, our own favourites that reverberate through our lives. I hope that through the book vending machine, and the fantastic work libraries and hospital will do together in Warwickshire, hundreds if not thousands of people will encounter reading experiences that speak to them deeply, and bring them joy.