Supporting mental health within the library: Mallinson Library, Wellington College, Berkshire
With a staggering increase in mental health issues for young people in the last decade, students need a space they can escape from the stresses of daily life. Research has shown a direct link between reading and mental well-being, making the library the perfect escape – both physically and mentally. We recently chatted with Lucy Atherton, Head Librarian at the Mallinson Library, about supporting mental health within the library and what initiatives they run to encourage new readers at Wellington College.
What are the core values of your library? What makes your library inviting and special for everyone regardless of age or ability?
Inclusivity, flexibility and adaptability are at the core of everything we do in the Mallinson Library at Wellington College. The Library is a bright, colourful, informal space for all students, staff and families. As we are a boarding school, the Library is open from 8am – 10pm and also at weekends. It is at the heart of the school, both physically, and in terms of providing a home for academic and extracurricular clubs and societies; from Creative Writing to Magic Club, as well as space for individual silent study or group work. We are lucky to have a very flexible space with separate rooms which can accommodate a range of activities, from developing research skills to group reading and debates. The glass fronted Library pods are popular venues for social learning, and the students came up with their favourite way of revising – writing on the glass walls of the pods.
We are very keen to avoid hierarchies and all age groups are equally free to use all areas of the Library.
You’ve run some great library initiatives. How did you get the library involved in Mental Health Awareness Day?
We recently worked with the Deputy Head (Safeguarding) to support her first Mental Health Awareness Day. This involved a large number of speakers and activities for students, staff and parents to attend.
The library contributed by providing:
Dog drop-ins – friendly staff dogs visited the library to provide a bit of pet therapy.
Mindfulness – a venue for mindful colouring in and the opportunity to create a hedgehog from an old book.
Massages – practitioners came in to offer these.
Display of books to support well-being.
Posters advertising well-being and ‘Shelf-Help’ book displayed on the backs of toilet doors.
Fruit and drinks available in the Library.
A comfortable place to read newspapers, magazines or pick up a good book.
Board games – including Big Chess and Dobble.
Jigsaws – some students got so involved in these they were reluctant to leave until they’d completed the 1000 piece puzzle!
Outdoor bean bags – relaxing on the bean bags or revising together outside was very popular.
It was a very successful day and we are planning to offer a number of the activities on a regular basis.
Do you collaborate with teachers and students regularly on projects?
We are fortunate to have enthusiastic and supportive teaching colleagues who are very willing to work with us on projects. We work in an atmosphere where experimentation and giving things a go is encouraged. In January 2020, the librarians collaborated with the teachers in charge of our younger Scholars to set up a Young Adult author Skype. Over the Christmas holidays the Y9 and Y10 students read Nikesh Shukla’s recent YA novel ‘The Boxer’. They came up with questions about the book, and we had fun refreshing our knowledge of the content and themes with a Kahoot Quiz before the author Skype Q&A interview. It was a fun event, prompting the students to read a book over the Christmas holidays and a number of them told me how enthused they felt about reading for pleasure, as they hadn’t previously encountered such a readable and thought provoking book.
How do you support/engage struggling readers?
We aim to offer the broadest and most varied book stock possible, welcoming suggestions for new stock and buying recommendations from students and staff. For a number of students, as they go up the school, reading for pleasure can drop off due to exam pressures and time constraints. We offer mini-collections of enjoyable reads in a number of boarding houses, and have collections of ‘Quick Reads’ in the main library and Academic Support Department Library. After the Wheelers ePlatform audio book collection was introduced, students were able to listen to books on their phones on long journeys to away matches or listen to the spoken version of an English set text. We also have an ever expanding collection of graphic novels.
YA author Sarah Crossan recently visited us and spoke to all the Y9s. She was enthusiastic and fun and her very moving and quick to read verse novels have been flying off the shelves!
How do you promote the library school-wide?
As professional librarians we are proactive in promoting all that the library, resources and staff have to offer.
Attend meetings – we attend Academic Department meetings to remind staff about resources and discuss how we can develop a whole school reading culture.
Reading promotion – we talk to Housemasters and Housemistresses to find ways to encourage reading in the pastoral setting.
News Digest – each week we highlight key online resources via our Library News Digest. In this email, which is sent to all students and staff, we curate the most thought-provoking articles from a variety of news sources, including podcasts and BBC radio and television. Readers stay up-to-date with current affairs and can find resources for anything, from an IB Extended Essay to Debating preparation.
Referencing advice – we offer sessions to support project research and run Referencing and Academic Honesty workshops for classes – either in the library or visiting classrooms, as required.
Supporting departmental libraries – we have helped to improve and systematise the Economics, Geography, Art, History and English Departmental Libraries.
Holiday reading – we make collections of new or particularly relevant books available to the teaching staff in their staffroom before holidays. This encourages them to borrow books even if they are short of time to visit the Library.
Coffee mornings – we specifically encourage the non-teaching staff to come along to these informal events to make them aware that they can borrow books and read the newspapers and magazines in the Library too.
How does Accessit help to promote your library?
The Accessit web catalogue is available to our staff and students 24/7 via the e-Library. The librarians run Research Skills sessions for our youngest students when they arrive in the school at the age of 13. During these workshops they learn to use the Accessit catalogue and search for books, e-books and browse Quick Lists. We also show them how to check their loans and loan history and reserve books. Since placing a dedicated computer on the library desk for catalogue searching, we have seen a huge increase in searches by students. Accessit Library enables us to see the most popular search terms and the top failed searches which helps us to improve our catalogue training, and gives us a better indication of student interests. Accessit reports also enable us to share the most popular books and authors with our students and staff. This supports a culture of reading for pleasure and encourages others to share their favourite reads.
What are some of the most popular reads right now?
Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
One by Sarah Crossan
Toffee by Sarah Crossan
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
March graphic novels by John Lewis
Red Rising series by Pierce Brown
Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore
The Boxer by Nikesh Shukla
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
How do you find being a school librarian?
Being a School Librarian is great – you get to work with all types of people (and in our case, dogs too) and your homework is to read as much and as widely as you can! The opportunity to chat about books and resources and find the most apt books and information for each individual is an enjoyable challenge. It’s a role which lends itself to creativity, innovation and variety. There’s never a dull moment and there’s always more to be done and new projects to implement.
Lucy Atherton is the Head Librarian at Wellington College, Berkshire, UK.
Library blog: https://wellingtoncollege.edublogs.org/