Sunday, March 5, 2017

Special Topics Paper: Bibliotherapy

As librarians (or future librarians), we understand the healing power of books. When librarians intentionally pick out books for patrons, it's considered bibliotherapy. In my research, I've discovered that a lot of libraries actually engage in some form of bibliotherapy through readers' advisory, they just don't call it bibliotherapy (Brewster, 116). My paper is about making a case for dedicated bibliotherapy in the public library.

After a brief history of bibliotherapy, I described the two different types of bibliotherapy. Creative bibliotherapy involves the use of fiction and other creative writing materials to assist a patron. Self-help bibliotherapy involves the use of self-help books and other non-fiction materials (Brewster, 115). Self-help bibliotherapy as pretty self-explanatory, but I wanted to not one area where it can be particularly beneficial -- cancer education (Turner, 56). Most articles I read dealt with mild to moderate mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Only one article mentioned the application of bibliotherapy for cancer patients, but I found it to be so important.

In reading these articles from the UK, I thought that it might be difficult to implement a more formal program in the US due to HIPAA regulations and patrons concerned for their privacy. It's much more difficult to achieve some semblance of privacy in a public library as opposed to a pharmacy counter. Pharmacys are regulated by HIPAA confidentiality rules whereas libraries are not. There could be potentially dozens of people see you pick up and check out a book on depression or anxiety. This could be uncomfortable if you don't want people to know about it. In that case, you can do more informal bibliotherapy by using signs and displays. I found a really neat example from a library in Essex, in the UK (Turner, 57).

Signs like these can help draw attention to your bibliotherapy services as well as provide a less invasive way for patrons to get help. 

If you're already doing readers' advisory in the public library, adding these bibliotherapy services seems like an easy way to serve the community. Bibliotherapy has proven scientific results (MacDonald, 2013) and is actually part of the UK's National Health Service's guidelines for treating minor mental illnesses (Brewster, 172). Readers' advisory and bibliotherapy really do go hand in hand and are a wise investment of time and resources for any public library. 


Brewster, Liz. 2008. "The Reading Remedy: Bibliotherapy in Practice." Aplis 21, no. 4:172-177. 

Brewster, Liz. 2008. "Medicine for the Soul: Bibliotherapy." Aplis 21, no. 3: 115-119. 

Detrixhe, Jonathan J. 2010. "Souls in Jeopardy: Questions and Innovations for Bibliotherapy With Fiction." Journal Of Humanistic Counseling, Education & Development 49, no. 1: 58-72. 

Macdonald, J., D. Vallance, and M. McGrath. 2013. "An evaluation of a collaborative bibliotherapy scheme delivered via a library service." Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 20, no. 10: 857-865. 

Sturm, Brian W. 2003. "Reader's Advisory and Bibliotherapy: Helping or Healing?" Journal Of Educational Media & Library Sciences 41, no. 2: 171-179. 

Turner, June. 2008. "Bibliotherapy for Health and Wellbeing: An Effective Investment." Aplis 21, no. 2: 56-61. 


  1. Hi Laura,

    What an interesting topic for a paper and an awesome idea in general! Even though HIPAA may make certain aspects difficult I could definitely see something like this making a positive impact in many patron's and community member's lives, both for recreational reading and the self-help aspects as well. I haven't seen too much of this implemented around here in CT, but I do believe it would be quite wise to. Libraries are always in the "business" of assisting others, better yet, assisting everyone. What better way to assist others than by providing professional, creative, and even healing resources/materials?

  2. I have never heard of bibliotherapy. I can see why it would be valuable. I thought you made a very interesting point about privacy and bibliotherapy. This sounds like an interesting paper.