Public Libraries and Adolescents With Mental Health Concerns – What's In It (the Collection) For Them?

The mental health of Australian adolescents has declined considerably since COVID, however, has been of significant concern for many years. In regional and rural areas of Australia, engagement with mental health services is often difficult due to a lack of services, distance, or high cost to access (Ivancic et al., 2018). The movement towards whole person librarianship (Zettervall, 2019) has seen an increasing focus on public libraries as community hubs where addressing the psychosocial needs of patrons is leading to a greater need for social work/ers in libraries (Shephard et al., 2023; Adams & Krtalic, 2022).

As the personal development of adolescents is influenced by the people, systems and cultural activities that surround them, public libraries and their collections represent an important environment in which young people can be supported with their mental health. In this, young adult literature is one device that can open discussions that may lead to mental health awareness, increased mental health literacy and greater help-seeking.

Studies have shown that well-researched and well-written fictional texts providing an authentic reflection of adolescent worlds are able to help readers see different lives and worlds than those they might normally encounter (Chance, 2014; Djikic & Oatley, 2014). As suggested by Webb (2016), these texts seek to inform and promote understanding, helping readers to discover how their own problems could be alleviated, as well as being helpful for young people to gain empathy for others. Raising awareness and gaining an understanding that they are not alone in their experiences can have positive long-term benefits for adolescents (Pung, 2017; Reynolds, 2010). Further, research in schools showed that adolescents were keen to read texts like these, and that reading them in a classroom situation promoted discussion of mental health, important for improved mental health literacy (Shephard, 2022).

The important place of public libraries in supporting adolescents who have a mental health concern led us to explore how available these texts were in our public libraries. In this, our work supports Sustainable Development Goal 3, Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Focusing on inner and outer regional and remote libraries in New South Wales, exploratory desktop research undertaken in late 2022 explored the holdings of young adult fiction that was catalogued under ‘mental health’. Across 49 libraries, 261 individual items that fit the search criteria were found through online catalogue searches. This was made up of 71 titles held across 35 physical libraries plus digital and mobile libraries listed on the catalogues as ‘locations’.

On the day that the catalogues were searched, 204 items (78%) were available to be borrowed, being shown in the catalogue as ‘in’. Early analysis of the data is leading to questions around cataloguing systems that may impact accessibility and findability for library patrons who could benefit from these texts. This presentation will report on initial findings from this research and seek to promote discussion on how the ways libraries catalogue texts could influence access to those texts by adolescents in their communities.

References: Adams, C., & Krtalić, M. (2022). I feel at home: Perspectives of homeless library customers on public library services and social inclusion. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 54(4),779–790. Chance, R. (2014). Young adult literature in action: A librarian’s guide (2nd ed.). Libraries Unlimited, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC. Djikic, M., & Oatley, K. (2014). The art in fiction: From indirect communication to changes of the self. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(4), 498-505. Ivancic, L., Cairns, K., Shuttleworth, L., Welland, L., Fildes, J. & Nicholas, M. (2018), Lifting the weight: Understanding young people’s mental health and service needs in regional and remote Australia. Sydney: ReachOut Australia and Mission Australia. Pung, 2017 Reynolds, K. (2010). Radical children’s literature: Future visions and aesthetic transformations in juvenile fiction. Palgrave Macmillan. Shephard, M. T. (2022). Expanding mental health awareness in adolescents using contemporary young adult literature in the English classroom [Doctoral thesis, Charles Sturt University]. Australia. Shephard, M. T., Garner, J., Bell, K. & Wardle, S. (2023) Social Work in Public Libraries: An International Scoping Review, Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, DOI: 10.1080/24750158.2023.2255940 Webb, J. (2016). Narrative matters: ‘The third space’ in adolescent and young adult fiction. Child and Adolescent Health, 21(4), 231-232. Zettervall, S. K., & Nienow, M. C. (2019). Whole person librarianship: a social work approach to patron services. Libraries Unlimited.

Dr Monique Shephard

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Future of the Professions Research Group at Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Dr Monique Shephard is an academic in Teacher Librarianship and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Future of the Professions Research Group, where she researches with the Social Work in Libraries team. Prior to moving into research, Monique worked in a regional public library, with a particular focus on the youth literature collection. Her research interests include mental health in youth literature and social justice in libraries

Dr Kasey Garrison

Lecturer, School of Information & Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University

Author Bio

Dr Kasey Garrison is a Senior Lecturer in Teacher Librarianship and coordinator of the Children’s Librarianship Specialisation at Charles Sturt University. Before becoming an academic, she taught in early childhood and primary schools in the Spanish and special education classroom as well as the school library. Her research interests centres around various topics in school libraries including information literacy, collaboration with public libraries, and social justice and diversity issues in youth literature