This project aimed to test, through a year-long action-research project with Essex Libraries, funded by Arts Council England, whether library-based rhyme times could be a large-scale platform for supporting maternal mental health.  In the UK one in five women, during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth of their child, experience maternal or perinatal mental illness.  It has also been shown that first-time mothers are less likely to seek help than ‘multi-mums’.

Rhyme time sessions, aimed at under 5s and their adult carers, take place in the majority of public libraries across the country. They typically comprise 30 minutes of singing, reading, and rhymes, often with music and toys.  Content, style, and structure varies depending on the library service, and the individual rhyme time leader.   Any accompanied child can turn up and join in subject only to space, and they are almost always free of charge for library members and non-members alike.  In Essex, rhyme times are run across the county network of 74 public libraries, with larger libraries running several sessions each week. We estimate library-based rhyme times in Essex reach 4,000-5,000 individual mothers each year, many of whom attend throughout their children’s early years.

Over a 16-month period staff from Shared Intelligence and Essex Libraries undertook collaborative action research focused on eight libraries across the county.  Our main task was to design, implement, and test a series of evidence-based ‘modifications’ to the existing rhyme time sessions. Our research questions were:

  • Do ‘rhyme times’ have a positive effect on maternal mental health and if so, how and why?
  • What is the reach of these activities and can it be increased?
  • Can a more structured approach to rhyme times be implemented consistently in a public library context?

The project is now complete and the main research report can be downloaded here:

Download – Rhyme times research main report

A set of shareable tools for use by other library services looking to learn from or replicate the approach can be downloaded here:

Download – Rhyme times research shareable tools

A quick guide to the research intended for a general audience including library staff and the public can be downloaded here:

Download – Rhyme times quick guide to research

For more information about this project and to be kept in touch with further work on libraries and mental health please contact charlotte.boulton@sharedintelligence.net

This project was funded by Arts Council England.