A Feeling for Books: Therapeutic Connections to Library Practice

By Pierce, Jennifer Burek | American Libraries, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

A Feeling for Books: Therapeutic Connections to Library Practice


Pierce, Jennifer Burek, American Libraries


What's not to like about bibliotherapy? Bringing readers to books, whether fiction or nonfiction, that respond to personal problems and promote well-being seems like powerful testimony to the notion that reading changes lives. Bibliotherapy has been described as an extension of readers' advisory, a specialized kind of information provision, or even a means of healing. Seldom is it fully acknowledged as the province of another profession, yet psychologists train to use and evaluate the merits of bibliotherapy. Understanding another field's ideas about bibliotherapy can aid librarians as they consider how--or even whether--bibliotherapy is truly the province of the librarian.

Librarians and library school faculty variously attribute the origins of bibliotherapy to the October 15, 1939, Library Journal article "Can There Be a Science of Bibliotherapy?" or to Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (1919). Researchers in psychology and gender studies, however, trace the concept back to 17th-century spiritual titles that American colonists counted on to guide them, which gave way to a burgeoning self-help literature beginning in the early 1800s that promised health and wealth. The guides of that era never used the term "bibliotherapy" but sold books that promised advice and self-improvement.

The hype of self-help

One scholar who focuses on the long tradition of self-help literature and its present-day forms is Patti Lou Watkins, associate professor of women's studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis and editor with George A. Clum, psychology professor at Virginia Polytechnic University Institute and State University in Blacksburg, of Handbook of Self-Help Therapies. I asked her if librarians who tout bibliotherapy as a library service are, essentially, practicing without a license. Certainly, other LIS writers have suggested the need for policy guidance in this area, mirroring professional limits on tax and medical information that respect those matters as beyond librarians' expertise. …

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