With many children facing mental health issues at an earlier age, due to challenges with covid-19 restrictions and increasing anxiety of climate change, it’s important to explore these issues through stories, to increase awareness, reduce stigma and provide mental tools. Libraries provide quiet and comfortable spaces where anyone can access assistance, support and feel a sense of belonging with their peers. 

Libraries are important places for community members to gather, offering free, inclusive and equal access to all. As open and welcoming spaces for children and families to learn and read, Story Box Library (SBL) spoke with subscribing library staff members on how their teams are working to support and improve mental health and wellbeing, in part one of a two-part series.

“Simply put, one of the greatest things about public libraries is that it is a place for community connection,” says Yasmin Greenhalgh, Collection Development Librarian at North Sydney Council Library. 

“As well as being a friendly face for a conversation or a trusted source of information, at Stanton Library we also have specific staff that are trained as Mental Health First Aiders and all staff attend regular Mental Health Awareness seminars from a variety of frontline organisations.”

Yasmin and her team have also been active participants in a North Sydney Council project initiative called ‘Lost Bird Found’. A creative arts project with a focus on mental health, it aims to encourage conversations and promote connection in the community. 

‘Lost Bird Found’ invites individuals and groups to create handmade birds that are hidden for people to find and keep! Attached to the birds is a tag with information on the project and how to access mental health information and support.

Using SBL at the library has helped the North Sydney Council Library team provide access to high-quality stories to families and children, to complement the existing Storytime services.

“Especially when we were unable to loan physical items,” Yasmin says, “we could still respond to requests for stories for families to help children through learning moments.

“We look forward to being able to continue this even when we are able to open our doors again after this current lockdown and supplement our library Storytimes with the wonderful tales on Story Box Library.”

Amy Hallmark from Waimakariri Libraries in New Zealand also spoke to the SBL team about her experiences using Story Box Library in supporting the health and wellbeing of families and children who come through the doors.

As the Library Customer Services Assistant, Amy runs programs and services that holistically support the mental health, feeling of belonging and wellbeing of community members of all ages and backgrounds. Including free access to SBL for all families at the library, the variety of programs that Amy and her team run include movie events for older people, games events for children and adults, upskilling training, support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and many more. 

“At the Waimakariri Libraries, we love to feed into the ‘five ways of wellbeing’: connect, give, take notice, keep active and learn, from the Mental Health Foundation,” Amy says.

“We are sounding boards that are not family members and happy to listen, and sometimes we are the only people someone may talk to the whole day.

“The library is always there for people. Our doors are open and we provide a safe free place to just come to.”

While covid-19 lockdown restrictions have impacted their ability to provide services through the library doors, Amy and her team have adapted and pivoted, making the most of online resources such as SBL to support families and children. 

“During Covid lockdowns we have had online songs, nursery rhymes, storytimes, puppet shows, craft lessons and lego building.

“The public love this and was well viewed and received. It helped the community feel connected still to the library and each other.

“It also provided help to flustered parents at home trying to teach and entertain the children while working, cleaning etc.”