Study shows how Manchester libraries help end loneliness

A survey carried out in Manchester has shown that using libraries helps people to feel less lonely and isolated from others. 

More than 80 per cent of people who reported often or sometimes feeling lonely said that visiting their local library helped to lessen these feelings, according to industry body CIPFA.  
 
Around 40 per cent of respondents to the 2019/20 Manchester Libraries User Survey reported experiencing some feelings of loneliness or isolation.  Of those people, the overwhelming majority agreed that going to the library helped them to lessen these feelings.     
 
Responses to the survey, which was held before the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrated that users perceive their local library as both an information hub and a community centre, which provides them with opportunities to meet other people and engage in social activities. 
 
The survey found that younger people experienced feelings of loneliness more than older people, with those aged under 35 twice as likely to report always or often feeling lonely or isolated than those aged over 35.   
 
People with a disability or impairment were more than four times more likely to answer that they "always or often” feel lonely, compared to those without a disability or impairment.  However, this group were also more inclined to state that visiting the library helps them to reduce these feelings. 
 
Library users were asked to give their comments anonymously to express how the community events, activities, books and friendliness they encounter in libraries helps them to feel better.  
 
“I come at least once or twice a week; this is an essential community resource for me and my daughter.  My mum used to bring me to libraries as a child.  They are safe and welcoming spaces that we are lucky to have”. 
 
“I have come to attend children’s activities.  It’s been a great opportunity for me and my children to meet others, get creative and explore books since they were babies.  It’s a lovely environment.” 
 
“I am on maternity leave on reduced income and the library is somewhere free, warm and dry to visit.  The staff are friendly.  I have borrowed novels for leisure and books for learning about parenting.” 
 
“I feel alone and worthless, but whenever I come to the library the environment makes me feel good here, I can meet other people.” 
 
“The library helps me get back into a social area and gain the courage to talk to people. It supports my mental wellness and my ability to deal with situations.” 
 
Manchester City Council's Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, said: "Our libraries are vital hubs which improve the quality of individual lives and the communities they serve.  That’s why we were keen to work with CIPFA on piloting research into how libraries make a difference for people who have experienced loneliness and isolation.  
 
"This research has confirmed what we've always believed – our libraries make people less lonely and more engaged with their communities. 
 
"We know that residents' health and wellbeing is improved by using their local library and wanted to help in measuring and demonstrating that people feel better when they use their local library." 
 
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said: ‘‘The results of the recent survey of Manchester libraries indicates that community centres such as public libraries are still incredibly important, especially as we enter a period of uncertainty following the pandemic. 
 
‘‘Local authorities are facing difficult decisions. Moving forward, it will be more important than ever for councils to be given the power to make their own choices about how crucial community resources such as libraries will be prioritised.’’  

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