Monday 22nd September 2014
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Autumn 2014
Norah Williams on how libraries are providing information and support in Torfaen, South Wales
Libraries play an important part in community life. They provide socially neutral and safe environments that welcome people, with no requirement for them to join or spend money. While traditionally seen as places to find information, libraries are a valuable platform for other services and forms of support.
The need for accessible information and support has never been greater. Libraries are well placed to help deliver on this, filling in the gaps left by ever-diminishing public funding. But libraries cannot operate in isolation. A coordinated approach, involving other organisations with similar agendas, is necessary.
Torfaen boasts a rich industrial heritage. Conversely, its legacy has greatly contributed to the social deprivation found in the area today. Unemployment is high, unhealthy lifestyle choices are common and literacy levels are low. Additionally an aging population, with many older people living alone, is placing increased demand on health and social care services. Cancer, heart disease and circulatory disease are the most significant public health issues in Torfaen, where 25% of people have a life-limiting illness.
Macmillan and Torfaen libraries
Macmillan and Torfaen libraries came together in 2010, initially to provide a three-year, cancer-specific information and support service. A Macmillan information ‘pod’ was constructed at Cwmbran Library, next to the health and well-being section of the library. The outside of the pod is well-stocked with information resources. The inside space provides a quiet corner for confidential one-to-one sessions. Information points have also been introduced at the other two libraries in Torfaen and are supported by weekly outreach sessions.
The beauty of the library-based service is that it affords the user spontaneity. It’s not regimented by an appointments system, so the service user is more relaxed. Because time is not an issue, the conversation is more free. I provide access to information, both written and from trusted internet sources. I also signpost service users to health professionals and support agencies in the wider community. I have found many people find it invaluable just to have a ‘listening ear’. The service was very well-used between September 2010 and August 2013, with 3,500 people accessing it and 16,000 information resources being taken away.
Developing the service
The first three years showed us that there was a need for information and support around cancer, but also around other health areas. Macmillan, Torfaen County Borough Council and CyMAL (Museums, Archives and Libraries in Wales) have provided further funding to broaden the service. As a starting point we have been supporting enquiries surrounding cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.
We also support mild mental health problems and carry information to encourage healthier lifestyle choices. Torfaen residents are now benefiting from this new, extended service, due to the initial funding and support from Macmillan.
Health and Wellbeing Information and Support Officer
Torfaen Library and Information Service
Torfaen County Borough Council
1 Public Health Wales. 2011 census: A snapshot of key health, employment and qualification indicators – Aneurin Bevan Health Board.