BT Projects

This section provides an overview of several reading-related projects involving librarians both in North America and internationally. Please note that not all of the surveyed projects are BT projects per se. However, all of them are built around the idea of the transformative power of literature.



Canadian Applied Literature Association (CALA), Canada
“[F]ormerly known as the Association for Bibliotherapy and Applied Literature,” this association is set to “promote the study and use of literature, in all its forms, as it applies to human well-being,” “work for the establishment and publication of a professional journal,” and “raise funds for the above purposes.” This association is unique in the Canadian context. Librarians may be interested in reviewing the “Member Research” section, which also links to the Story Species site. Prof. Emeritus Joseph Gold, whose work we have also annotated on our site, was one of the Story Species’ initiators.

Bibliotherapy Education Project, Central Michigan University, US
This project was born out of a series of discussions between Dr. Pehrsson and Dr. McMillen when both were assistant professors at Oregon State University, the project migrated to UNLV and is now at a new home at Central Michigan University. Their work was founded in a joint belief in the enormous power of literature and stories as therapeutic tools.” The two main goals of the website is to help users find books that have already been evaluated for their BT qualities and to learn how to evaluate the potential therapeutic merit of books. The site hosts a browsable and searchable database, whose bibliographic records emphasize the therapeutic value of books and their appropriateness for specific audiences. The elaborate Bibliotherapy Evaluation Tool (BET) is developed and used to examine the items included in the database. As the website notes, “Although surveys suggest that many people use books as therapeutic tools, there is little formal training or guidance available on how to evaluate literature for that purpose. The BET offers a framework based on counseling practices described in the professional literature.” The site carries a disclaimer that “The evaluations and other materials presented [there] are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to substitute for medical or mental health advice.” The website also provides a list of Considerations and Cautions for delivering BT, which is particularly valuable for librarians working with children and young adults. Some of those considerations include attention to the cultural, ethnic, and religious sensitivity of reading materials and their factual accuracy. The website also has an annotated bibliography of other BT projects and a list of some BT books and articles. Please note that Dr. McMillen’s work, including publications about this project, is annotated in other sections of our website (“Research Articles on BT” and “BT Training for Librarians“).

Changing Lives through Literature (CLTL), US
CLTL is “an alternative sentencing program, Changing Lives Through Literature” “co-founded in 1991 by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth English professor Robert Waxler and a Massachusetts Trial Court judge” in 1991 “in response to a growing need within [the US] criminal justice system to find alternatives to incarceration.” Similar programs now exist in several locations in “Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island, as well as some international locations.” The program website includes information about its history and philosophy, as well as specialized sections for students, instructors, judges, and probation officers. It also has the section on “Resources” and “Outreach.”

LITMED – The Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database (LITMED), US
LAMD is a free-access, extensively annotated, specialized database in Medical Humanities that can greatly benefit BT practitioners and teachers. This fully searchable and browsable database provides a “multimedia listing of prose, poetry, film, video and art” that have health-related, medical, or therapeutic connections. Database records, in addition to basic bibliographic information, contain plot summaries and commentaries, which emphasize the work’s therapeutic value. LAMD has been steadily growing over the years, becoming more sophisticated in terms of presentation, use, and access. It can serve as an incredibly useful BT tool.

Reach Out and Read National Center, US
Reach Out and Read is a non-profit organization operating in the United States, whose mission is to support young children’s literacy development. This is accomplished through partnerships with and training of medical professionals who discuss the importance of literacy and give out books to children and their families during regular pediatric checkups. The organization has identified a number of populations that would particularly benefit from this intervention (such as military families, Native Americans, and children with developmental disabilities), and targets them especially. The website provides information about the organization, an extensive section of research findings with links to complete studies, and various literacy resources containing reading advice, thematic annotated booklists, and audiobooks. The information and resources included in the website would be of interest to librarians who work with very young children and their families, not only in public but also in special, school, and academic libraries.

Get Into Reading – the project of The Reader Organisation, UK
The Reader Organisation is a truly unique agency in the United Kingdom: “a charitable social enterprise working to connect people with great literature through shared reading.” Some of its goals include “[g]row[ing] the practice of shared reading across the UK and beyond” and “[c]reat[ing] a national culture of shared reading.” The concept of shared reading is paramount to the Get into Reading project. It began in 2002 with the reading groups “for young mothers and adult learners in Birkenhead, by the charity’s founder and director, Jane Davis.” Since then, “the charity’s weekly read aloud groups have taken Shakespeare to supermarkets, poetry to prisons and Hardy to hospitals.” As the Organisation claims, “Impacts of the groups include increased personal confidence and reduced social isolation, improved emotional and psychological well-being, greater stability and support, and a growing love of books.” It is noteworthy that neither The Reader Organisation nor the Get into Reading project members operate with the word “bibliotherapy.” They do not promote this project as a cure or a panacea for personal troubles or health conditions. They use both responsible and reflective terminology to delineate the mission and achievements of their activities, while helping people to connect with books and improve their well-being.

Prison Reading Groups (PRG), UK
Prison Reading Groups (PRG) is a project that results from “a partnership between the University of Roehampton and the Prisoners’ Education Trust to support the spread of prison reading groups and to encourage links between formal and informal education in prisons.” The project website also has the “News” and “Groups in Action” section, as well as another section with additional information related to PRGs (e.g., members’ feedback, reading choices, and books of the month). Noteworthy is the recent research report entitled “Prison Reading Groups: What Books Can Do Behind Bars: Report on the work of PRG 1999–2013” available full-text on the website.

Reading Well Books on Prescription, UK
While independent Books on Prescription initiatives, or as they are referred to ‘schemes,’ have existed all over the UK for some time, as of “June 2013, a new scheme, Reading Well Books on Prescription will be available in libraries throughout England. This new scheme […] aims to bring reading’s healing benefits to the 6 million people with anxiety, depression and other mild to moderate mental health illnesses.” As the project description claims, it “uses 30 books endorsed by health partners as having evidenced CBT [Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy] benefits.” Following the guidelines, doctors will be able to prescribe books in exactly the same way as they prescribe medicine. Librarians will be interested in the fact that the new guidelines have been “developed by The Reading Agency and The Society of Chief Librarians,” which points to the crucial role that librarians, as experts on reading materials and the reading experience, can play in collaborative multidisciplinary projects in various settings, inside and outside the library.

Books on Prescription, UK
A useful starting point for librarians to help people looking for self-help books on a range of emotional and mental health concerns, such as, “depression, anxiety, phobias, low self-esteem, insomnia, panic and agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders.” The BoP site provides information about books that draw upon the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. It includes information about specific books and authors, a variety of free resources (text and audio extracts from books, worksheets), and a listing of organizations and publishers supporting BoP.

IBBY Children in Crisis Fund, International
IBBY—The International Board on Books for Young People—has established this fund with the goal “to provide support for children whose lives have been disrupted through war, civil disorder or natural disaster. The two main activities that will be supported by the Fund are the therapeutic use of books and storytelling in the form of bibliotherapy, and the creation or replacement of collections of selected books that are appropriate to the situation.” The website of the Fund lists recent IBBY’s projects in the areas of humanitarian and natural disasters around the globe. The Children in Crisis Fund is an excellent way for North American librarians to get involved internationally and to gain a broader perspective on the state of libraries and literacy outside of North America.