Bibliotherapy in School Libraries: An Israeli Experiment

Article excerpt

The concept of bibliotherapy has been known since ancient times. Despite the concept's direct connection to books and libraries and despite its potential as a means of support and aid, it has not attained a clear status in library science. The therapeutic nature of bibliotherapy does not allow its full application in libraries, but the author suggests focusing on the developmental aspect of bibliotherapy and defining it with a new term: supportive knowledge. An experiment to implement these ideas was carried out in two schools in Israel by building a special self-help section in the libraries. There was an increase in reading, mainly among boys. The pupils were interested in books that represented their own personal problems, such as teenage dilemmas, drugs, sex, death, and violence. They began to discuss these issues openly among themselves and with the librarians. In addition, a close collaboration was created between the school administration, the teachers, and the librarians.

Introduction

The concept of using literature for therapeutic and supportive purposes has been known since ancient times. The Ancient Greeks called their libraries "The Healing Place for the Soul"; Muslim physicians encouraged patients in hospitals to read the Koran; Christians drew strength and comfort from the Holy Scriptures; and Jews never separated from their Prayer Book and the Book of Psalms. However, bibliotherapy did not become established as a concept until the 20th century. The idea of bibliotherapy received great appreciation in the libraries of the army hospitals during World War I, but it was not until the 1930s that the concept of bibliotherapy really began to flourish. By 1939, the hospital division of the American Library Association (ALA) had established a Bibliotherapy Committee for the purpose of studying bibliotherapy. This was the turning point that gave bibliotherapy official status in the field of librarianship.

To date, several hundred articles have been published in this field, the best-known being those of Brown (1975), Rubin (1978a, 1978b), Pradeck and Pradeck (1984, 1993), Hynes McCarty and Hynes Berry (1986), Adeney (1990), Choen (1990), and Doll and Doll (1997). These, among many others, deal broadly with the definition, goal, and practical results of bibliotherapy. In the framework of the present article, I do not elaborate on these questions, but rather focus on one important and interesting question: Is there a future for bibliotherapy in the framework of school libraries? I was inspired to write this article by reading an article by Alice Gulen Smith (1991) entitled "Whatever Happened to Library Education for Bibliotherapy?" Her article clearly shows that the concept of bibliotherapy has not been very successful in the field of librarianship. Bibliotherapy can play an important humanitarian role in our society because of its potential for support and enlightenment; librarians are aware of the social potential of books and libraries. Why, then, did this concept not succeed in public and school libraries?

The school library is a place where children and teenagers absorb cultural values and knowledge, but in addition to the educational aspect of the school and library, there is another function, and that is to educate pupils to take an active part in a healthy and constructive society. During the years that children are in school, they cope with personal and social problems, some of which are ordinary and natural, such as learning difficulties, parent-child relations, growing up, and sexuality. However, sometimes they must also cope with more unusual problems, such as the divorce of parents, a death in the family, or a serious health problem.

The social functions of schools are fulfilled by teachers, educational advisers, and psychologists. However, I maintain that the school library can also become a focal point for social assistance and support through the implementation of the methods of bibliotherapy in the library. …