It was some years ago, after undergoing a fairly major operation that I found myself, doped to the gills with pain killers, totally unable to pick up any of the enticing books I’d brought with me to the hospital. None of them caught my interest and in any case I was sleepy and completely unable to concentrate.
Then it happened! One book somehow slipped into my hands. It spoke to me, inspired me and made me realize that my despondent state was not as bad as the experiences of the character I was reading about. I finally felt connected and inspired and yes ….. the book, I discovered with some joy, brought me hope and a great deal of pleasure. This book was a key to my return to the ‘land of the living’ and re-established within me the joy of reading. The book was given to me by my work colleague, another Teacher Librarian.
It is this experience I often reflect upon when faced with those occasions of feeling “out of it”, hit by a bad run, or totally preoccupied with “stuff”, so-much-so that my ability to concentrate on reading is dead, buried and gone. How easy it is for each of us who work with books, to suss out the kind of book that is ‘just right’ for our library patrons.
So when I read an article a couple of months ago in The Age: Bibliotherapy a novel approach to helping readers treat literary indecision I was intrigued. Before I’d gotten too far into the article though, skepticism started creeping into my mind. By the time I got to the end of the article though, I was soon saying out loud to myself ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’ ‘Is this for real?!’
To put it mildly, I was blown away by the idea that a new profession had evolved from the tools of the trade normally associated with those working in libraries and book shops. I was also bowled over by the idea that these kinds of services, normally provided at no cost by those working in libraries, were being charged for and that consumers were ready to part with money for the kind of information being offered.
Thanks perhaps to a recent article in The New Yorker: Can reading make you happier?, which has most probably fanned interest in yet another ‘alternate therapy’, two Melbourne Bibliotherapists have expanded their trade by taking on overseas clients via Skype. With interest piqued, three sessions presented by this pair at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival were sold out. It is interesting to note that one of the Melbourne Bibliotherapists, a former genetic counsellor, trained at the British School of Life with Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, the person quoted extensively in The New Yorker article.
The process, I gleaned from both articles, seems fairly straightforward. Clients complete a questionnaire prior to meeting the Bibliotherapist. Questions asked, hinge around a person’s reading habits:
- What kinds of books do you like?
- What books did you read as a child?
- What are your interests/passions?
- What would you like to try? (Presumably life pursuits)
- When do you read? Daily? Weekends? Holidays?
- Do you buy or borrow books?
- What is preoccupying you at the moment?
On her personal website, Ella Berthoud, gives greater specifics of the questionnaire:
When you book a bibliotherapy session, you will be sent a questionnaire asking you about your reading habits, loves and dislikes. We ask why you read, what you read, when and where you read – who with, or whether you always read alone. Do you ever read aloud, or listen to audiobooks? All your reading habits are explored. We also ask what is going on in your life at the moment – are any major issues coming up? Are you in the middle of a career-change, about to have a baby, moving home, experiencing a break-up, or beginning a new relationship? Are you perhaps retiring, or living alone for the first time? All life situations, whether serious or frivolous, can be illuminated by a good book. We believe that reading the right book at the right time can change your life. Our job is to help you find that book.”
Her business website, The School of Life, expands on the process:
In a consultation with one of our bibliotherapists, you’ll explore your relationship with books so far and be asked to explore new literary directions. Perhaps you’re looking for an author whose style you love so much you will want to devour every word they’ve ever written. Perhaps you’re about to trek across China and need to find ideal travel companions to download onto your kindle. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from the world and want to listen to the classics of your childhood during your daily commute. Or you’re seeking a change in your life and want to hold the hand of people who’ve been there and done that already.”
If your visit with a Bibliotherapist is in England, you will, after parting with £80.00, have a forty minute consultation face-to face, via phone or on Skype which will further illuminate responses to the questionnaire, and then be prescribed a list of the 8 best books to be read over the next few weeks or months. The list is accompanied with an explanation as to why these books are considered to be the best. A few weeks later, the client is contacted to ask if they would like to come back for another consultation.
The questions asked by Bibliotherapists are eerily similar to those asked by Teacher Librarians working in School Libraries, Librarians working in Public Libraries, and those working in book shops, all of whom have an excellent grasp of literature and regularly make sound book recommendations to their patrons. Indeed, the raison d’être of our profession aims to put the right book into the right hands at the right time. There is of course, no charge for this service. It is a role that we joyfully take on; revelling each and every time we establish that connection between patrons and books.
On sending the link to The Age article to family and friends, as well as current and past work colleagues, the comments and replies received back were interesting. One emphatically stated:
You should write to the author of the article and remind them that librarians are there for more than putting books away on the shelves.”
Another response reminded me that there is many a website today which can aid and assist the needy in their search for the right book. No costs apply of course. I’ve blogged about this previously: What’s a good book to read Miss? and Any more good books Miss?
I’m passionate in my belief of the immeasurable value to be gained from reading. I agree totally with many of the statements made in The New Yorker article:
For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.”
as well as this:
So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”
I also applaud the engaging video which appears on The School of Life website which I have taken from YouTube:
Who knows, perhaps in our next career some of us will become Bibliotherapists!
Right now though, I get a real thrill out of encouraging others to read, getting them to discover the joy of reading and yes ….. helping them find the perfect book to meet their mood, interest, need or take them to the next point of discovery in their life.