Emotional Wellbeing


Mental Health

Ainsley Lawrence

Community Connections: How Libraries Combat Loneliness and Isolation

Community Connections: How Libraries Combat Loneliness and Isolation

Since their inception, public libraries have been a place where people can find refuge. During rainy days, folks can find temporary shelter and read a book or two in a quiet nook for as long as they’d like. Those without home internet access can complete projects, apply for jobs, and leisurely surf the web. Children can gather for special reading events where their favorite book characters come to life. 

Though often underutilized today, libraries continue to be a community resource for those who are looking for connection and opportunities to bond with their peers. We’ll examine some ways libraries can help you overcome feelings of loneliness and provide you with a means of spending time with your fellow community members. We will also review resources and programs libraries have for commonly isolated groups, such as QTBIPOC individuals and older adults.

Libraries as Communal Connection Hubs

Local public libraries are pretty unique in the way that they provide an alcohol and drug-free, cost-free, relatively quiet place for people to get together and share their thoughts. One of the primary issues in the United States is the lack of a free “third place” which refers to a social location outside work and home. 

Many people, such as unhoused individuals and children, do not have the funds to spend their free time at museums, restaurants, bowling alleys, and coffee shops. The library enmeshes various groups of people in one free location, offering an opportunity to safely gather in spaces that appeal to their age group, social community, and interests.

When visiting a library, you can:

  • Join specialized evening events such as readings, classes, and presentations;

  • Facilitate volunteer events like community clean-ups;

  • Benefit from tutoring and literacy programs;

  • Understand politics and local government initiatives;

  • Gain access to social programs.

  • Educate yourself on whatever subject you’d like.

Libraries also lend individuals a diverse space where they can examine and relate to people just like them through books, forums, and in-person meetings. Those struggling with body dysmorphia or image issues can read books that offer insight into these harsh feelings. 

Community members can facilitate public meetings for those who are struggling with eating disorders and body image troubles to vocalize their concerns and connect with mentors who are in recovery. This can be especially helpful for older folks and QTBIPOC individuals who are navigating bodies that are rapidly changing from what they once knew for so long. They can learn how to care for their bodies properly and find positive role models to look up to in the process.

How Older Adults Can Benefit from Libraries

Whether much of your focus is on work, finances, your home life, or your health, it can be difficult for older adults to gain meaningful community exposure. Especially now that much of community engagement takes place online, older folks who aren’t well-versed in technology can miss out on valuable opportunities to gather, learn, have fun, and make change. Thankfully, libraries offer a collection of digital and in-person resources that older individuals can take advantage of.

Boston Public Library’s Roxbury branch hosts a Nutrition Lab, which teaches people the basics of nutrition, such as how to eat and cook well. This nutrition literacy program can be valuable to older folks who are struggling with their health and may not have the resources to enhance their wellness alone. Folks can take part in cooking classes, receive healthy eating reading lists, and join book clubs that discuss agricultural development, recipes, and more.

Libraries are a great place to learn a new skill and develop a few long-term friends along the way. LA County Library offers a vast collection of programs geared toward older adults who are looking for group learning opportunities. 

There is the ESL Conversation Circle, which meets for six weekly sessions each Wednesday for conversational English language development. This is great for older adults who have just moved to the US and need a comfortable place to enhance their language skills and meet people who are in a similar circumstance. Fun hands-on programs are available too, such as the Mason Jar Planter program, which teaches adults how to grow plants with mason jars.

Library Resources for QTBIPOC Individuals

Those in the QTBIPOC community can often feel isolated socially and politically. This can lead to a mental health decline that affects all areas of their lives. Libraries create a space for QTBIPOC individuals to learn more about their identity, find helpful financial and social resources, and connect with other local individuals who are in the same community. 

Supportive spaces like these are necessary for enhancing the mental wellness and overall safety of QTBIPOC individuals. Visibility affirming that these groups are not alone in their identity and there are public learning spaces to gather, rejoice, and inform can only benefit their mental wellness in the long run.

The American Library Association has a digital collection of incredible resources QTBIPOC folks can use to address common issues that affect mental health, such as incarceration, disabilities, and dealing with stressful attacks like cyberbullying and doxxing. The ALA also provides information regarding how to navigate legal issues when conducting library meetings exclusively for QTBIPOC people.

In San Francisco, the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA+ Center on the 3rd floor of the SF Public Library is a beautiful space where community members can access literature, archives, photos, and audiovisual resources. Events here include panels with LGBTQIA+ authors, zine creation classes, and performances by queer poets. Learning and meeting spaces that are particularly for these groups can work wonders for self-acceptance, community building, and finding freedom from loneliness.

There is scarcely any other public place where you can benefit from all the resources and community events above, along with having access to the internet and a wide collection of books that can answer nearly all of your questions and concerns. When you’re looking for friendship, education, and fun all in one, head to your local library and get involved.

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