History of BT

This section lists monographs, articles, and other publications discussing the history of BT in general and in libraries in particular, including sources with the first recorded usages of the term ‘bibliotherapy.’ In this section, unlike in other sections, entries are listed chronologically rather than alphabetically.


| Afolayan | Anonymous | BeattyBrownCrothers | Forrest | Gilbert |
| Ireland | Keneally | Kinney | Levin | McCullis | McKnight |
| Morley | Perryman | Schneck | TewsWeimerskirch |


Brown, E.F. (1975). Bibliotherapy and its widening applications. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.
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This book aims to present a comprehensive “synthesis of opinions, developmental steps, basic considerations, and techniques … of the science and art of bibliotherapy” (v). In addition to chapters detailing the history, origins, and definitions of bibliotherapy, Brown looks at bibliotherapy in nursing homes, prisons, and schools. She also devotes a chapter to the role of the public library in bibliotherapy and discusses the qualifications, training, and responsibilities of a bibliotherapist. The book is aimed at the lay reader and provides extensive readings lists for further exploration of the topic, although the fact that the book was published nearly forty years ago means that many new developments in the field have occurred since. The broad range of topics will be of interest to those researching the history, theory, and practice of bibliotherapy. 

Morley, C. (1919). The haunted bookshop. [New York]: Grosset & Dunlap.
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Written shortly after World War I, The Haunted Bookshop is the sequel to Morley’s first novel Parnassus on Wheels. The book tells of a family-owned second-hand bookstore and the strange happenings that begin to occur there. The store’s eccentric owner Roger Mifflin loves to expound on the healing power of books and reading; in fact, this novel contains one of the first recorded usages of the term “bibliotherapy”. Besides being an entertaining light spy mystery (with a bit of romance), the book contains many thoughtful discussions on the role of books and reading in people’s lives. 

Keneally, K.G. (1949). Therapeutic value of books. In Frances Henne, Alice Brooks, & Ruth Ersted (Eds.). Youth, communication and libraries: Papers presented before the Library Institute at the University of Chicago August 11-16, 1947. (pp. 69-77). Chicago: American Library Association.
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After a brief introduction to bibliotherapy and a listing of related projects that were underway in various hospitals when the book was in preparation, Keneally moved to discuss the application of bibliotherapy with problematic preadolescent and adolescent children for the purposes of “supplanting unwholesome ideas and introducing in their place healthy attitudes and emotional stability” (72). Two cases describing the successful application of the method follow. The author concludes by analyzing the role of the librarian in bibliotherapy, stating that while librarians know books and thus are in a position to help the professionals who work with problematic children, they need to be trained in psychology and psychiatry before practicing bibliotherapy. This presents a very contemporary and very relevant sentiment. The paper is a telling example of discourse around bibliotherapy in the mid-twentieth century.

(In chronological order)

Crothers, S.M. (1916). A literary clinic. Atlantic Monthly, 118, 291-301.

Crothers presents a sort of an interview with his friend Dr. Bagster, an early practitioner of bibliotherapy. Dr. Bagster discusses his realization that literature can serve as “a stock of thoughts in such a variety of forms that they can be used, not only for food, but for medicine” (292). He goes on to describe various books as having particular medicinal effects, and explains the way in which a “literary prescription” needs to be put together. A number of humorous case studies follow, and the literary treatment is described, along with the results. The article provides an example of the first attempts at bibliotherapy in the early twentieth century and, according to some sources, presents one of the first usages of the word “bibliotherapy.” 

Ireland, G.O. (1934). Bibliotherapy: Use of books as a form of treatment in a neuropsychiatric hospital. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 79(2), 198.

In this short historical article Ireland describes bibliotherapy as a “reconstructive agent in its broadest sense”. The author supports the implementation of libraries in psychiatric hospitals, indicating that they should be distinct in atmosphere from the general hospital and should provide an informal, home-like experience. The author considers the hospital librarian to be a qualified practitioner of bibliotherapy, although he notes that book selection and suggestion should be done with great care and awareness of the patient’s abilities and interests. The article provides an interesting perspective on the early role of the librarian in the practice of bibliotherapy. 

Schneck, J.M. (1945). A bibliography on bibliotherapy and hospital libraries. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 33(3), 341–356.

This bibliography includes 350 journal, newspaper, and magazine articles, as well as reports and bulletins, on the subject of hospital libraries in general, and the practice of bibliotherapy in particular. Most articles are in English, with a few in German. The articles are taken from a large variety of journals directed at various medical and library professionals. Spanning 32 years from 1912 to 1944, the bibliography provides a comprehensive overview of the use of books in hospitals for those interested in the origins and history of bibliotherapy. 

Kinney, M.M. (1946). Bibliotherapy and the librarian. Special Libraries, 37, 175-180.

This historical article critiques the literature and research on bibliotherapy conducted in the first half of the twentieth century. The author notes that studies on bibliotherapy tend to lack scientific rigor and are not nuanced enough when discussing findings. Kinney describes a proposed ‘seven point program’ designed by Dr. Schneck, which is meant to “investigate the possibility of supplementing the treatment of psychiatric patients by means of contact with books” (177). The author hopes that this in-depth study will, among other things, clarify and limit the role of the librarian to that of an “expert in general literature” (178), and thus a key member of a larger bibliotherapy team; a shift from the previously accepted role of the librarian as an active practitioner of bibliotherapy. The article concludes with a brief discussion of guidelines for book selection in hospital libraries. 

Anonymous. Trends and discoveries: Reading science for sanity (1961). New Scientist, 258(12), 253.

This short paragraph summarizes the findings of a Czech study which showed that “popular-scientific works” would be of greatest benefit to patients suffering from mental illness because they “made the greatest demand on the patient but did not arouse the pathological content of his thoughts” (253). The paragraph also mentions that bibliotherapy was most beneficial in the treatment of depression. Albeit brief, the paragraph is an interesting glimpse into early attempts to research and quantify the tools and benefits of bibliotherapy. 

Beatty, W. (1962). A historical review of bibliotherapy. Library Trends, 11(2), 106-117.

The author gives an overview of the field of bibliotherapy, and discusses some of its most prominent supporters and practitioners. The article proceeds in chronological order from 1900 to the late 1950s, touching briefly upon important developments and seminal works. Beatty divides the supporters of the practice into three camps: those who look upon it as an “art”, those who see it as a “science”, and those who are simply “enthusiastic” about it. He concludes by calling for bibliotherapists to consider their readers carefully, and to approach the task with humour and imagination. The article would be useful to researchers who are interested in the development of the theory and practice of bibliotherapy in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Tews, R.W. (Issue ed.) (1962). Library Trends: Bibliography [Special Issue], 11(2).

This issue of Library Trends aims to “present the basic issues, facets, and limitations of bibliotherapy and to suggest the current trends, possibilities, and areas to be explored” (97). The first part of the issue deals with the history and theory of bibliotherapy, while the second part discusses it as a practice, with articles by doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists, and librarians describing their roles and points of view. In the introduction to the issue, Tews describes the subject of bibliotherapy as “illusive, intangible, [and] highly complex” (100), and calls for a concerted effort to clarify its goals. She also advocates for further research on readers’ preferences and needs. The introduction, as well as the entire issue, would be of value to those who are interested in the historical aspect of bibliotherapy, and the way the practice was perceived by the different members of the therapy team. 

Weimerskirch, P.J. (1965). Benjamin Rush and John Minson Galt, II: Pioneers of bibliotherapy in America. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 53(4), 510–526.

The article discusses the history of bibliotherapy in the United States. Weimerskirch points out that bibliotherapy was discussed and practiced in America from the early nineteenth century, whereas most other historical reviews trace it back to the beginning of the twentieth century. The author specifically focuses on Rush and Galt – two prominent supporters and practitioners of bibliotherapy in American mental institutions. The article provides an informative comparison of the American and British early practices of bibliotherapy, and comments on the atmosphere in the institutions, as well as on the role of the therapist. The author contends that current practitioners of bibliotherapy will benefit from the knowledge of these early American bibliotherapists. 

Afolayan, J.A. (1992). Documentary perspective on bibliotherapy in education. Reading Horizons, 33(1), 137-148.

Afolayan focuses on children and adolescents in his review of late-twentieth-century bibliotheraputic history and practice. The author provides concise definitions of bibliotherapy and its sequential processes (“identification”, “insight”, and “catharsis”), and goes on to discuss techniques of implementing bibliotherapy. The article also touches upon the limitations of bibliotherapy and the precautions that must be taken in its administration. The article concludes with brief summaries of a number of studies of bibliotherapy. This short, practical article would be of interest to librarians involved with children and youth. 

Gilbert, B.K. (1993). Sadie Peterson Delaney: Pioneer bibliotherapist. American Libraries, 24(2), 124-130.

Gilbert presents a biography of Sadie Delaney: the chief librarian of the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital in Alabama between 1924 and 1958. The article specifically discusses Delaney’s bibliotherapy practices and her civil rights activism in the segregated South. Delaney recognized the need of African-American veterans to read about their own people’s history, noting that “[b]ooks about the Negro cannot be written fast enough to satisfy the insatiate desire of these veterans” (127). In addition to its inspirational value, this article provides numerous concrete examples of bibliotherapy as used for both physical and mental ailments. 

Forrest, M. E. S. (1998). Recent developments in reading therapy: a review of the literature. Health Libraries Review, 15(3), 157-164.

The author’s stated aim is “to encourage health and community care librarians to consider reading therapy as a possible adjunct to the services currently available from today’s libraries” (157). After a brief discussion of the various forms and definitions of bibliotherapy Forrest provides an overview of its history in England and the United States. The author then reviews literature on bibliotherapy and notes frequently arising trends and themes. One such issue is librarians’ qualifications for practicing bibliotherapy. Forrest urges librarians not to practice independently but rather “to be proactive when promoting library services and in collaborating with health care professionals who are practicing reading therapy” (161). She concludes by challenging library schools to provide training that will help future librarians to work successfully with medical professionals. Although it is not very recent, the article is a thorough overview of the various aspects of bibliotherapy.

Perryman, C. (2006). Medicus Deus: A review of factors affecting hospital library services to patients between 1790–1950. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 94(3), 263-270.

Perryman reviews literature from medical library journals and other medical information sources to uncover trends in medical library services from the late-18th to the mid-20th century. She traces the changing nature of the goals of medical libraries from providing reading materials as treatment to viewing reading as a beneficial distraction, and finally to reading as a preventative measure in the form of self-help literature. The author concludes that “services to the general public are shaped by the broader health care environment as it has evolved” (263). Librarians interested in the history of bibliotherapy would find this article informative, but it would also be of interest as a critical reflection on the effect of broader social norms and attitudes on library services in general.

McCullis, D. (2012). Bibliotherapy: Historical and research perspectives. Journal of Poetry Therapy: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory, Research and Education, 25(1), 23-38.

This article provides a view of the evolving nature of bibliotherapy, its goals and outcomes, and its practical applications. In addition to the historical perspective, McCullis addresses some newer forms of bibliotherapy, such as self-help books, computer-aided interventions (or “web-based bibliotherapy”), and virtual reality. The article also contains a short section detailing courses and training opportunities. It is a thorough overview of the research on bibliotherapy in the mid-twentieth to early twenty-first century. 

Levin, L., & Gildea, R. (2013). Bibliotherapy: Tracing the roots of a moral therapy movement in the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 101(2), 89-91.

This brief article provides a concise review of the history of hospital bibliotherapy in mental care facilities in the United States. Starting with the inclusion of reading alongside gardening and sewing as part of “moral therapy” for mentally disturbed patients, Levin traces the evolution of bibliotherapy in hospitals over the past two hundred years. The article mentions the main proponents of bibliotherapy and the differences in their approaches to the practice, concluding with a short description of the current application of bibliotherapy as part of the holistic care in mental health hospitals. This short, yet informative article is a good introduction to bibliotherapy for those who are interested in the history of the practice.

McKnight, M. 2014. Information prescriptions, 1930–2013: An international history and comprehensive review. Journal of the Medical Library Association 102(4), 271–280.

This article provides a comprehensive review of the relevant literature about governmental “information prescription” programs for patients. It compares and contrasts approaches taken to this topic over the years, which have moved from the discussion of practices to the emergence of small-scale projects near the turn of the century (with a 30 year gap between the mid-1960s and mid-1990s). Since much of the relevant literature remains anecdotal and considers patient “satisfaction” sufficient, this article advocates for longer term and larger scale projects that look more closely at information prescriptions’ ability to actually improve patient health.