We recently had the privilege of presenting the results of our action-research into library-based rhyme times and maternal mental health, to an international audience of library professionals. Having been invited to present at the Next Library conference in Berlin, we and colleagues from Essex Libraries (with whom we conducted the research) ran a real-life version of the modified rhyme time sessions developed as part of the research.
Our Berlin workshop was one of the most lively and joyous we have ever run. Taking a learning-by-doing approach each participant was given a “child” (a balloon with a drawn face). Participants sang songs and rhymes, and experienced how rhyme time leader Audrey from Essex Libraries congratulated parents on having made it to the session, persuaded parents to take part in face-to-face songs with their child, and gently reinforced the message that these sessions are not just good for children, but for mothers’ mental wellbeing too.
In Essex, rhyme times take place across the county network of 74 public libraries, with larger libraries running several sessions every week. We estimate that in Essex alone library-based rhyme times reach 4,000-5,000 individual mothers each year, many of whom attend throughout their children’s early years.
Across England around 600,000 babies are born each year and one in five of their mothers (120,000 women) will experience some form of maternal or perinatal mental illness in the first year after birth. At the same time, support for maternal mental health is extremely patchy, and where it does exist is over-stretched. With nearly 3,000 public libraries (more than there are Costa Coffee shops!) we believe this research demonstrates how England’s public libraries can act as a large-scale platform for supporting mothers with maternal mental illness – in open-access, welcoming settings available in every community.
Full details of the research are on our main project page here.