Libraries, museums, theatres, cinemas and art galleries all contribute to the health and wellbeing of local people. They promote education and learning, creativity and personal development, and provide opportunities for social interaction, supporting a sense of belonging to the local area among residents.
‘Intrinsic’ benefits delivered through libraries (e.g. enjoyment, participation, learning) have been described as contributing to ‘extrinsic’ benefits or ‘social goods’ (e.g. improved wellbeing, greater civic participation). 1
Libraries not only help to improve access to information and push up literacy rates through access to books (associated with improved mental and physical wellbeing), but often deliver a range of health and wellbeing activities on their premises – through hosting events, exhibitions, and health promotion and awareness sessions. Many of the core functions of the library service also have broader health and wellbeing benefits, for example through the provision of free access to computers, study space and support in writing CVs for those seeking employment.
A recent study found library use to be associated with health and wellbeing benefits for the individual (being a regular library user is associated with a 1.4% increase in the likelihood of reporting good general health) and to society as a whole (associated health improvements were estimated to save the NHS £27.5m each year in reduced GP appointments). 2
The Royal Society for Public Health identified libraries as one of the most health promoting facilities on our high streets, citing the following from a survey of the public: 3
- over half (55%) believe libraries support healthy choices
- over half (52%) believe they support social interaction
- almost half (44%) believe they promote access to health services and advice
- two thirds believe they support mental wellbeing.
Engaging in accessible, affordable cultural activity or contributing as a volunteer can also play a major role in supporting independence, providing an opportunity for people to socialise and reducing social isolation. 4 See the ‘Community cohesion and social networks’ section of this JSNA chapter.
- BOP Consulting and Department of Culture, Media and Sport, “Capturing the Impact of Libraries Final Report,” 2009
- D. Fujiwara, R. Lawton and s. Mourato, “The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries,” Simetrica for Arts Council England, 2015
- Royal Society for Public Health, “Health on the high street,” 2015
- Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association, “The role of culture and leisure in improving health and wellbeing,” 2014.