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The Written Remedy

It's February and I haven't posted a thing all year. Not a jot, a word or a doodle.  I know you're all clambering to hear my latest thoughts on librarian life, and it's not like I haven't been thinking (well, most of the time).  Things have been happening.  Big ideas are afoot.  So where do I begin?

I have become interested in the study of Bibliotherapy.  Biblio means books.  Therapy means therapy.  Book. Therapy.  There was a man, an essayist and minister actually, who first came up with the term Bibliotherapy just over 100 years ago (he coined the term as a bit of a piss-take, but eh, we shall run with it).  Bibliotherapy has endured, if not a tad under the radar, since this time.  Recently though it has begun peeking out from behind the book shelves and tentatively interacting with the modern world.  There are articles, websites, blogs - even the odd radio program - talking about the concept with joy and wonder.  But is it just a nice idea without any substance?  Do books truly have the power to heal?

I am currently participating in a free online course entitled "Literature and Mental Health", run via futurelearn.com.  In the course, the lecturers introduce us to the idea of Bibliotherapy and then take us through a range of human emotional conditions, discussing various texts that they believe may be useful in their treatment.  The content itself is interesting enough, but the comments!  The comments from my fellow course-mates are so insightful and thought-provoking they are without a doubt the highlight of the course thus far.

What has become increasingly obvious to me is that the impact of literature is acutely personal.  The lecturers, in introducing us to texts that are intended to treat various conditions, have produced amongst the students responses that have been wide and varied.  Poems intended to alleviate stress deeply touched some, passed straight by others, or even managed to actively annoy some readers.  Bibliotherapy appears to be an extremely imprecise science and at this point its unpredictable outcomes would never pass the rigour of a clinical trial.  But putting that aside, what is obvious is that there IS an outcome - a definite and tangible effect that comes from reading literature.  Is it a placebo effect?  Who cares!  As rightly pointed out in my latest class, heartbreak, grief and anguish, although experienced entirely in the mind produce very tangible, physical symptoms.  Reading is also entirely experienced in the mind, so should it not also be able to produce a tangible physical response?

The course has given me a new appreciation of the importance of my (fledgling) work in Readers Advisory.  As a Librarian I am now looking at the fiction area as a pharmacy.  My shelves are not stocked with powders and unguents, they are stocked with ideas and words, phrases and imagination. I just have to take the time to unearth what ails my patients, so I can offer them the most suitable cure.


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