Student wellbeing hit the headlines again last week as mental health campaigner and former health minister Sir Norman Lamb revealed a "complex and fragmented" picture of mental health provision across UK universities with many institutions not monitoring how well services were used, or whether they were actually meeting the needs of students.
Findings from our ‘Being well, doing well’ study, based on a survey of over 12,000 students, showed that mental health difficulties have a substantial impact on an individual’s ability to study and increase the risk of drop-out. Doing well at university is intimately related to being well, and mental ill-health significantly compromises the ability of students to cope with, and keep up with, the demands of their studies
So, what role for university libraries in all this?
Student wellbeing has been a consistent theme in our work over the years and is now one of the four key areas of student life that we track as part of our Library Life Pulse. On average, just over half of undergraduate students in our study report that their library has a positive impact on their wellbeing. Importantly, amongst those who do not state that their library has a positive impact on wellbeing, overall library satisfaction drops from 85% to 54%.
Libraries are at the heart of universities, one of the few places where all staff and students can go without departmental and hierarchical boundaries. There are some key spheres of influence where libraries have opportunities to positively influence student wellbeing:
1. Staff – library staff probably have more regular contact with students than most academic colleagues. They are respected and trusted and proactive interventions can have a big impact on individual students.
2. Physical space – loneliness and social isolation at university can be a major issue for students with mental health issues. Libraries provide a range of places where students study and socialise together; often offering some of the only non-commercial spaces on campus.
3. Digital space – the library is a primary provider of digital space where there are many opportunities to help and influence students.
4. Reading lists and collections – these can be built with wellbeing in mind with special book recommendations and encouraging students to read for pleasure.
5. Training and skills – many libraries are offering students resilience training and mindfulness sessions alongside the more traditional academic skills.
However, whilst there is increasing recognition of the potential of the library to influence student wellbeing library colleagues are asking questions such as;
How can we ensure our staff are best trained and supported to provide proactive interventions to students? What do students expect their library to be doing, and what are their limits to what we should do? What role should the library be playing in relation to other services on campus? Can some aspects of the library service, such as 24/7 opening hours, be having a negative impact on wellbeing?
With these challenges in mind along with our own knowledge of the issue and our belief that the library is the glue of the university community and has an important role to play in student wellbeing inspired us to develop our latest Library Futures collaboration ‘ The role of libraries in wellbeing’. The project will provide fresh evidence to support libraries to develop their strategy around student wellbeing and you can find out more about it here.