Prose on Prescription

Article excerpt

How GPs and libraries are harnessing the healing power of the written word

People consulting their local GP over mental-health issues may find they are written a surprising prescription, one redeemed at the local library rather than a pharmacy.

The "big guns" of the library and medical worlds have joined up for an initiative to help to treat those with mild to moderate mental-health problems.

Patients could be recommended anything from one of 30 medical volumes dealing with specific conditions to "mood-boosting books" - novels and poetry - from writers including Jo Brand, Bill Bryson and Terry Jones.

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Reading Agency yesterday announced the scheme, dubbed "Books on Prescription", which starts in May. "There's growing evidence that shows that self- help reading can help people with certain mental-health issues get better," Miranda McKearney, director of the Reading Agency, said.

This forms part of a wider vision for the future of public libraries in the 21st century, including offering internet access and training and, potentially, e-lending services.

Campaigners welcomed the initiatives but still feared not enough was being done to protect the libraries themselves. Desmond Clarke, who has been campaigning for eight years, said: "There are some good ideas here, but the concern is they are tinkering around the edges."

A total of 200 libraries closed last year, with reports of a further 300 facing closure or to become run by volunteers this year.

Janine Cox, president of the SCL, said yesterday's announcement was "a response to the challenging times we find ourselves in", before adding: "We're aware there are less of us as librarians, and we're trying to capitalise on strengths that we have."

The Books on Prescription idea was particularly interesting as it could be funded out of health budgets. The scheme's research and development is funded by Arts Council England to the tune of 19,900 from the Libraries Development Initiative fund. The Reading Agency has also applied to the Department of Health for funding for the following three years and expects the decision within the fortnight.

GPs will write out a prescription that will give patients immediate membership at the local library, with recommendations for titles rather than letting their patients rely on Google's search results.

While local libraries have attempted their own schemes in the past, this has been backed by what Ms McKearney called the "big health guns".

This includes the Department of Health, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and, importantly, the Royal College of General Practitioners. …