Research Articles on BT

This page annotates research-based articles from two types of periodical publications: Library & Information Science journals and Medical journals. The latter category only includes articles that discuss the participation of librarians in the process of BT or otherwise mention or involve libraries and librarians. There is an astounding number of articles on BT in medical journals. To monitor those, we set the Google Scholar Alert for the duration of the project, and several times a week, we tracked down multiple articles. However, not all of them are useful or interesting for librarians, so prepare to do some wading and sifting through.


| BolithoBrewsterBrewster et al.Cohen | Cover | Dali | Dysart-Gale | Fincher | Fujiwara et al. | Genuis | JanavičienėLongden et al. | MacDonald et al. | Mårtensson | McAllister | McLaine | McMillen | Riahi Nia | RobertsonSheih & Chien | Speak | Stephenson | Sturm | Turner | Walwyn | Wilson |


Bolitho, J. (2011). Reading into wellbeing: Bibliotherapy, libraries, health and social connection. APLIS, 24(2), 89-90.

In this article, Bolitho describes the implementation of a pilot bibliotherapy reading group at a senior citizen’s home in Melbourne, Australia. She writes about the necessity to collaborate with lifestyle coordinators, diversional therapists, and trained health professionals, stating, “It is not the facilitator who is trained to deal with [sad memories, emotional outbursts, anger, and pain] – it is the responsibility of the trained health professional” (90). Librarians will benefit from this article because it provides a concise example of a bibliotherapy program that begins with specific goals and involves collaborative relationships.

Brewster, L. (2012). More benefit from a well-stocked library than a well-stocked pharmacy. CILIP Update, 11(12), 38-41.

As in her other articles, Brewster calls for further evaluation of bibliotherapy schemes in order to gauge their usefulness. Unlike her other articles, however, Brewster here articulates her findings from interviews with 27 individuals who participate in bibliotherapy schemes. She concludes that different individuals chose bibliotherapy for a variety of reasons and describes four models of bibliotherapy: escapist bibliotherapy, emotive bibliotherapy, informational bibliotherapy, and social bibliotherapy. These models are valuable for practicing librarians because they encourage librarians to always keep the needs of individual patrons in mind.

Brewster, L. (2010). Bite sized research: Evaluating the impact of bibliotherapy. Public Library Journal, 25(3), 20.
Brewster, L., Sen, B., & Cox, A. (2012). Legitimizing bibliotherapy: Evidence-based discourses in healthcare. Journal of Documentation, 68(2), 185-205.
Brewster, L., Sen, B., Cox, A. (2013). Mind the gap: Do librarians understand service user perspectives on bibliotherapy? Library Trends, 61(3), 569-586.

In the small article called “Bite Sized Research,” Brewster calls for increased evaluation of bibliotherapy projects – evaluation that is both qualitative and quantitative.

In “Legitimizing Bibliotherapy,” Brewster et al. seek to explore the reasons for the implementation of the self-help bibliotherapy initiative found in Wales. After defining evidence-based practice and bibliotherapy, Brewster et al. articulate the methods used to examine the introduction of bibliotherapy in Wales. They conclude that the evidence-based discourse (or rhetoric) was used in order to support the implementation of the bibliotherapy initiative and call for another evaluative tool (in addition to evidence-based practice) that focuses on “the service user or patient voice” (201). While a difficult read because of the abundance of healthcare and policy jargon, this article is valuable in its insistence on the inclusion of quantitative and qualitative measures in policy creation.

In “Mind the Gap,” as in “Legitimizing Bibliotherapy,” Brewster et al. articulate the need for a new type of evaluation of bibliotherapy services. They assert that service providers (librarians engaged in bibliotherapy) and service users (patrons participating in bibilotherapy programs) should be studied more closely in order to achieve a more effective assessment and an improved execution of a program.

Brewster, L. (2008). Medicine for the soul: Bibliotherapy. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(3), 115-119.
Brewster, L. (2008) The reading remedy: Bibliotherapy in practice. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(4), 172-177.
Brewster, L. (2009). Reader development and mental wellbeing: The accidental bibliotherapist. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 22(1), 13-16.
Brewster, L. (2009). Books on prescription: Bibliotherapy in the United Kingdom. Journal of Hospital Librarianship, 9(3), 399-407.

In this series of articles (annotated here as one entry because of significant overlap in content), Brewster defines bibliotherapy; articulates the differences between creative, self help, and informal bibliotherapy; and provides examples of bibliotherapy schemes present in public libraries in the United Kingdom.

Although Brewster’s definition of bibliotherapy is broad, a close examination of the articles reveals a growing awareness of the complexity of bibliotherapy, with Brewster helpfully asserting the necessity to train library staff, to form partnerships when initiating a bibliotherapy scheme, and to formally evaluate these schemes. Having studied the relationship between libraries and bibliotherapeutic practice for her PhD at the University of Sheffield, Brewster brings an extensive research background to the discussion of bibliotherapy in public libraries. However, many of the concepts that she brings to the article (for example, “mental well being”) could benefit from clearer and more specific definitions. In addition, some of her assumptions should be treated critically. In “Medicine for the Soul: Bibliotherapy,” for example, Brewster states: “As critics comment on the death of reading and the library, concepts like bibliotherapy may form the basis of new key aims for the library, ‘developing their role as community resource centers, providing access to communication as well as information’”(17). Brewster here assumes the diminishing role of libraries in reading promotion and readers’ advisory to be true (which, in our opinion, is not the case). Conversely, she gives greater importance to bibliotherapy in the library than may be warranted, especially given librarians’ widespread lack of therapy-related training.

Dali, K. (2015). Readers’ advisory: Can we take it to the next level? Library Review, 64(4/5), 372-392.

This article identifies a number of areas in which LIS education related to reading and readers’ advisory (RA) is weak and out of date. She notes a limited number of reading-related courses in LIS departments and their prevalent focus on tools, genres of books, and retrieval techniques. Dali is concerned about both LIS departments and practicing librarians falling behind in the interdisciplinary world, and cautions that RA, when deemed an inessential service, is always in jeopardy of being eliminated or denied funding. While bibliotherapy is not the main focus of this article, it is nevertheless mentioned as one of the two key areas on which librarians and LIS departments should focus in order to take RA to the next level and to remain relevant and in step with the times. Dali identifies bibliotherapy as an important initiative through which librarians could make an impact and form partnerships with hospitals, public health settings, and prisons. Given the evidence of bibliotherapy as an effective community intervention, this article lends urgency to the need for librarians’ to take advantage of these opportunities to expand their reach and make their services less dispensable.

Janavičienė, D. (2012). Bibliotherapy in Lithuanian public libraries: Service identification and analysis. Toruńskie Studia Bibliologiczne, 2(9), 157-173.

Drawing on the expertise of researchers from the U.S., Great Britain, Israel, Russia, and Lithuania, the goal of this research is to identify the characteristics of bibliotherapy and to determine the extent to whch these practices exist in Lithuanian public libraries. The research is useful both for its multi-national perspective and its attempt to chart the boundaries and scope of bibliotherapy. Knowing what we know about the dangers of bibliotherapy, the high prevalence of bibliotherapeutic practices in public libraries may be more alarming than exciting. The author makes a sound recommendation for an “experience sharing seminar” that might open up a conversation among Lithuanian public libraries practicing bibliotherapy and foster opportunities for training or, at least, purposeful programming.▲ 

Longden , E., et al. (2015). Shared reading: Assessing the intrinsic value of a literature-based health intervention. Medical Humanities, 41(1), 2-7.

Building on the growing evidence base for the therapeutic value of literature, this study used a 12-week crossover design to compare the outcomes of six sessions of “Shared Reading” against the “Built Environment” workshop. A comparative social activity was the participants’ brainstorming of design ideas for a specified environment. The researchers found that shared reading had a number of associated benefits, including the liveliness generated by reading aloud, creative inarticulancy (or, as noted in previous studies, the benefit of therapy in an organic and non-dogmatic environment), emotional benefits enabled by certain triggers in the texts, the personal benefit of bringing their own experiences to bear on the text in a supportive group environment, and the group itself, which quickly became connected and communal. Two useful comparisons attest to the effectiveness of “Shared Reading” as an intervention: (1) The researchers found that the self-disclosure elicited by the texts created a more emotionally productive environment than that of the “Built Environment workshop”; and (2) participants cited “Shared Reading” as preferable to group psychotherapy because the emphasis in “Shared Reading” was on the text rather than on negative life experiences. Librarians may find this study interesting because it actually compares shared reading against another similar social activity; with limited budgets for events, librarians may be able to use this evidence to argue for shared reading initiatives over other possible community endeavors. ▲ 

McMillen, P.S. (2005). The Bibliotherapy Education Project: A collaborative teaching effort goes to the web. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 23(2), 85-96.
McMillen, P. (2006). A therapeutic collaboration: The Bibliotherapy Education Project at Oregon State University. OLA Quarterly, 12(2): 14-15.

In these articles, McMillen outlines the evolution of the “Bibliotherapy Education Project” – an online database that provides information and reviews about books commonly used in bibliotherapeutic contexts. McMillen’s background in both library science and clinical psychology, as well as her graduate work in children’s and young adult literature at Portland State University, brings weight and thoroughness to the establishment of the online database.

In the 2005 article, McMillen outlines the “evolution of a collaborative teaching project into an educational Web site about bibliotherapy” (85). Having reviewed the sources which showed that “counseling students or practicing mental health professionals” (86) had no training in the practice of bibliotherapy, McMillen set out to establish an online database where students and practicing professionals could go to both review and find information on books commonly used in bibliotherapeutic contexts. McMillen’s background in both library science and clinical psychology brings weight and thoroughness to the establishment of the online database. (See also, “Bibliotherapy Educational Project” under “BT Projects” and under “Research Articles on BT” for more McMillan’s citations). Also, a brief PowerPoint-based lecture on the basic tenets of BT by Perhsson and McMillan is freely available online.

MacDonald, J., Vallance, D., & McGrath, M. (2013). An evaluation of a collaborative bibliotherapy scheme delivered via a library service. Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 20, 857-865.

The goal of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of bibliotherapy by looking at the UK initiative “Read Yourself Well.” The study evaluates not just the benefits of bibliotherapy for the perceived mental health of users, but also the merit of bibliotherapy delivered as a community-based endeavor rather than a project “driven and managed by healthcare providers.” The authors conclude that participants showed significant improvement when evaluated against standard mental health measures. They also find bibliotherapy to be an apt treatment for mild to moderate health problems that can be made available via a network of community-based services, such as general medical practices, social welfare agencies, libraries, and self-referrals. The study lays useful groundwork for the effectiveness of community-led bibliotherapy and provides useful evidence in that respect.

Sheih, C.S., & Chien, P.C. (2013). A study on emotional healing efficacy of fiction for undergraduate. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 51(2), 323-331.

This article outlines the findings of Sheih and Chien who conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with 21 undergraduates in an attempt to determine which fiction genres had “emotional healing efficacy” (324). They found that “romance, realistic fiction, fantasy, martial arts novels, inspirational fiction, historical fiction and science fiction” (324) provided full emotional healing, while “detective fiction, online novel[s], psychological fiction, and horror fiction” (325) provided only partial healing. While their definitions of “full emotional healing” and “partial healing” remain broad, they conclude with a statement that all librarians would do well to remember: that readers come to texts with different “life experiences, personal characteristics, preferences, and perceptions” (325); and thus, an individualized approach is necessary.

Sturm, B.W. (2003). Reader’s advisory and bibliotherapy: Helping or healing? Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 41(2), 171-179.

In this article, Sturm places bibliotherapy under the broader umbrella of readers’ advisory but also distinguishes it from readers’ advisory based on the librarian’s intent to “heal.” Although Sturm acknowledges that there is danger in librarians thinking that they know best what patrons “may need” (174), he does explain that the art of the readers’ advisory conversation—wherein the patron is given due attention and a relationship of trust is formed—will mitigate these potential dangers. He concludes by reminding librarians that they are not clinicians and counselors and encourages them to clearly define their boundaries, both as individuals and as professionals. He writes, “Know the boundary between advising and counseling. Patrons deserve the best librarians can offer, but librarians must not let hubris overcome humility. Librarians should not engage in therapy without a qualified license, and they should remember that the librarians’ word for therapy is ‘referral’!” (177). Sturm similarly reminds librarians that they are “qualified to recommend books but not qualified to diagnose the need” (174).

Turner, J. (2008). Bibliotherapy for health and wellbeing: An effective investment. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(2), 56-61.

Like Brewster, Turner showcases bibliotherapy initiatives in the United Kingdom and provides an in-depth analysis of their challenges and benefits. She also contributes to the conversation by describing interesting relevant examples.

Walwyn, O., & Rowley, J. (2011). The value of therapeutic reading groups organized by public libraries. Library & Information Science Research, 33(4), 302-312.

In this article, Walwyn and Rowley outline the findings of their research, showing the benefits of bibliotherapy from the participant’s perspective. Using the data from 14 narrative interviews conducted at three different locations, Walwyn and Rowley discover 11 major benefits: catharsis and empathy; reading outside the group (increased motivation to read outside the group setting); literacy; learning and creativity; companionship; confidence and empowerment; activities/employment outside the group (increased confidence gained through participating in the group led to an increased participation in activities and employment outside the group); relaxation; enjoyment; occupation (the book group enabled participants to keep busy); and physical health.

While this study is original because it focuses on the perspectives of the bibliotherapy participants, it lacks a thorough description of the specific bibliotherapy programs from which the participants came. It only mentions that one was run by a librarian, another one by a librarian with a mental health worker present, and the third one by a librarian with a care home staff member present.

Wilson, H. (2012) Bibliotherapy texting words of hope. CILIP Update, 11(1), 46-47.

Wilson explores how the Kirklees Library (located in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England) uses texting as a supplement to a currently existing bibliotherapy initiative. The bibliotherapy initiative is an “informal ‘bookchat’ library-based session [that] help[s] people with mental health issues combat isolation and loneliness” (46). The texts sent out are mass texts that include a line of poetry designed “to inspire, comfort and offer an alternative view of the world” (46). While texting to combat isolation and loneliness is laudable, little evidence is given that such a practice is, in fact, effective. Kirklees Library, however, is currently developing a training program for those wanting to deliver bibliotherapy, so perhaps as part of this development, they may collect further evidence regarding the effectiveness of various bibliotherapy methods.


Cohen, L.J. (1994). Phenomenology of therapeutic reading with implications for research and practice of bibliotherapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 21(1), 37-44.

This study, which draws upon semi-structured interviews with eight participants, compares self-help bibliotherapy with interactive bibliotherapy, with the latter facilitated by a therapist. Along with discussing the purposive, relational, and immersive aspects of bibliotherapy, the study notes how self-directed participants were able to gain information and understanding. Recommended for librarians interested in learning more about both forms of bibliotherapy.

Cover, I. (2012). Reading as a loving care: a Bibliotherapy path with the elderly of Policlinico Italia.  

Medical anthropologist Ilaria Cover briefly recounts some of the qualitative findings from her Master’s research project in this short 6-page document. Cover describes the “Reading as a loving care” project with which she was involved in 2010. The project’s goal was to test the therapeutic effects of reading aloud on institutionalized patients with dementia. Cover hypothesizes that reading therapy can effectively ameliorate challenges specific to dementia patients by providing them with a protective environment through which they can hear stories and tell their own. This activity would stimulate cognitive abilities through positive emotional involvement with the text insofar as specific time can be devoted to each patient. The report is brief but presents a good case study on the benefits of reading aloud to patients with dementia. Cover draws special attention to two individual patients and goes into detail on how the reading impacted them and helped them recreate their personal stories.

Fincher, J. P. (1980). Bibliotherapy: Rx—Literature. Southern Medical Journal, 73(2), 223-225.

This short article gives a succinct explanation of bibliotherapy and its uses in medical centers. The author briefly discusses various forms of bibliotherapy, its practitioners and recipients, its possible adverse effects, and the training required for various bibliotherapeutic roles. She concludes by calling for more studies of bibliotherapy as a form of treatment of mental and physical illnesses. Although quite dated by now in some aspects, the article gives a concise but informative view of bibliotherapy from a medical perspective.

Dysart-Gale, D. (2008). Lost in translation: Bibliotherapy and evidence-based medicine. Journal of Medical Humanities, 29, 33-43.

Dysart-Gale’s article would be an interesting read for health sciences librarians familiar with the paradigm of evidence based medicine (EBM), which emerged in the 1990s to address the concern that popular or traditional medical practices were being allowed to persist untested. The author situates bibliotherapy as an example of an intervention which is not well-served by the scientific scrutiny of EBM. She argues that EBM was embraced as an answer to exactly the kind of subjectivity inherent in bibliotherapy, and, since EBM is considered the gold standard for judging the efficacy of a treatment, and studies that get to the heart of bibliotherapy as an intervention are by nature case studies (the lowest level of evidence according to EBM), EBM cannot establish the effectiveness of bibliotherapy and thereby (a) passively proclaims it ineffective, and (b) influences the views members of the medical community might have of bibliotherapy. Librarians not familiar with the framework of EBM may still find this article of use because it argues for bibliotherapy as a successful intervention in lieu of what is popularly considered rigorous evidence.

Genuis, K. (2015). Read aloud group bibliotherapy for the elderly: An exploration of cognitive and social transformation. Journal of Applied Arts & Health, 6(1), 77-89.

Genuis is a medical student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a background in the humanities. The article details her initiative, under the guidance of the UBC Faculty of Medicine, to introduce a bibliotherapy program in a local respite-care center, by holding small group reading and reflection sessions with elderly residents. Given the documented successes of the UK Reading Organization and other similar initiatives, this model of bibliotherapy is not actually unique; however, Genuis’s article describes the intervention at a Canadian institution. Her article outlines the historical and medical roots of bibliotherapy, and describes specific experiences of selected patients. This article is a Canadian complement to the documented work of British bibliotherapists which illuminates an international perspective on bibliotherapy.

Fujiwara, D., Lawton, R., & Mourato, S. (2015). The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries: Full report.

This report, commissioned by the Arts Council England and conducted by the consultancy group Simetrica, arrives at some conclusions that would be welcome news for any public librarian: namely, that library users have “higher life satisfaction, higher happiness and a higher sense of purpose in life compared to non-users.” Using a large amount of survey data, the researchers aim to determine the value of engagement with library services for a person’s quality of life, and the impact of personal benefits on society. While bibliotherapy is one of many data points in this study (named as one of several different services a person could access through the public library), librarians planning bibliotherapy projects and similar initiatives would be well-served by this scientific analysis and the statement of projected societal merit.

Mårtensson, L., & Andersson, C. (2014). Reading fiction during sick leave, a multidimensional occupation. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 21 [(2)], 1-10.

Although reading fiction is typically considered recreational, this article outlines the ways in which it could also be conceptualized as an “occupation” during sick leave. Such a possibility emerges from an analysis of interviews with eight women on sick leave who also read fiction, and whose accounts relate to five categories of experiences that support one’s “active self.” This has implications for librarians who not only help persons on sick leave but also others who are unable to work due to a variety of circumstances.

McAllister, M.; Brien, D.D.; Flynn, T., Alexander, J. 2014. Things you can learn from books: Exploring the therapeutic potential of eating disorder memoirs. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 23(6), 553–560.

Although learning from the lived experiences of others who have had eating disorders has advantages over reading books about them, the authors consider the possibility that memoirs on the topic could provide another avenue for recovery. This paper considers how they could aid with transformative learning, which emphasizes well-being over illness, and it recommends ways to determine more specifically the degree to which memoirs can help persons with eating disorders.

McLaine, S. (2012). Bibliotherapy: Reading for wellbeing in old age. Alzheimer’s Australia, Dementia Forum, 2012 Melbourne, Australia 14 August 2012.

With the predicted increase in persons with dementia by mid-century in Australia, this paper considers prospects for using reading as a way to help persons with dementia feel a sense of well-being. The author describes her thoughts about the efficacy of reading, bibliotherapy programs, and creative bibliotherapy for achieving such aims, drawing upon case studies as examples. This paper may have implications for librarians working with persons suffering from various forms of dementia and their caregivers.

Riahi Nia, N. (2011). Application of counseling therapy and bibliotherapy to academic librarians’ job burnout. Quarterly Journal of Career and Organizational Counseling, 3(7), 97-112.

This study focuses on burnout among librarians within academia, typically brought about by dealing with clients, and the extent to which bibliotherapy can help. Thirty participants from Tarbiat Moallem University in Iran were divided into three groups, two of which received group counselling and bibliotherapy, while another acted as the control. Based on pre- and post-tests, both worked with helping librarians recover from burnout, but counseling emerged as the more effective treatment. This study has potential implications for considering the extent to which bibliotherapy can help with burnout in the library profession itself.

Robertson, R., Wray, S. J., Maxwell, M., & Pratt, M. J. (2008). The introduction of a healthy reading scheme for people with mental health problems: Usage and experiences of health professionals and library staff. Mental Health in Family Medicine, 5(4), 219-228.

By researching one community near Edinburgh, Robertson et al. analyze the usefulness of the “books on prescription” service currently available in a number of United Kingdom public libraries. The program allows medical and mental health professionals to write out prescriptions for particular books that are available in the local public library. The authors describe the training that both librarians and medical staff undergo in order to utilize the program, and discuss the scheme’s benefits and difficulties. This informative article would be of value to librarians who aim to establish collaborative relationships with medical providers in their communities.

Speak, M. (1991). Promoting library resources in Age Concern day centres. Health Libraries Review, 8(1), 21-28.

Speak describes an experimental project conducted in four centers for physically and mentally frail elderly people in Leicester, UK. The project aimed to promote and improve an existing library service, and examine the effect of library resources on the residents’ participation in group activities. The author shares her successes and difficulties and provides a list of guidelines to those who are interested in this type of service. Community and outreach librarians would find this article to be of value.

Stephenson, P. L., Coady, T. R., Schneider, J. M., & Sinha, D. P. (2012). E-readers: New opportunities for hospital patients and staff. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 31(2), 219-224.

The article describes four case studies of Veterans Health Administration hospitals that purchased e-readers for their patients and staff. The authors discuss practical issues regarding purchases and use of the devices, and show how each hospital tailored its e-book collection to the particular needs of the organization. The case studies aptly demonstrate the possibilities of librarian-doctor collaboration. Librarians interested in establishing programming and services for patrons with special needs and their families and caregivers will be interested in this article.