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Public Libraries: The Real Minister for Loneliness?

Published on Tue, 07/09/2019 - 07:59am
Lonely man

Kansas City’s local NPR station, KCUR, recently concluded a series of stories called “Loneliness Is Killing You,” which explores how loneliness has become an increasingly critical issue across the globe and particularly in our own backyard. In the series, KCUR’s Alex Smith explains how something that was once considered a topic for musicians and writers has now been deemed a health crisis that is affecting people of all ages and in all areas of the Midwest. From millennials living in big cities to elderly individuals in rural areas, loneliness affects many and can contribute to a range of physical and mental health issues.

“It may even be a factor in growing problems like drug use, suicide, and declining life expectancy, which are especially prevalent in the Midwest,” writes Smith.

For the series, Smith traveled abroad to the U.K. to learn more about the innovative approaches officials there are taking to address loneliness. For example, last year Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a “Minister for Loneliness,” a position tasked with developing programs and initiatives to combat the widespread concern. While comedians enjoyed a good joke at this expense, there is much scientific data to support both the concern about loneliness and its impact on the economy.

“One study estimates that social isolation among older people costs Medicare more than $6.5 billion every year. But the effects of loneliness could be much larger even than that, reaching everyone from urban teens to middle-aged suburbanites to rural retirees,” Smith writes.

In the U.K., solutions for this problem have included developing a sector of healthcare devoted to promoting social interaction through activities such as dancing and gardening. This got me thinking; as an organization dedicated to the wellbeing of its community, the public library is well-suited to address these needs.

Not only can residents find enriching materials and resources for free at their local public library; they can also use the location to gather and connect with one another. In addition, the Library provides a wide range of free programming opportunities for residents to meet new people—from book groups and exercise classes to art exhibits and concerts.

So, what do you think? Can the Library be our “Minister for Loneliness”? And if so, what other things can we do to address this critical need and support ourselves and our neighbors? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Emily B.
MCPL Marketing & Communications


Metro libraries in Kansas City are offering adult recipe groups with potlucks weekly, gardening, sewing, and other adult interest groups. MCPL has expanded programs to adults of all ages in recent years, but there still seems to be area for improvement to be consistent with what other libraries are offering. NKC Library and Olathe Library have interesting offerings.

From Anonymous (not verified)
Tue, 07/09/2019 - 09:40am

I think this is a great idea. I live alone and always look forward to the "Beyond the Books" coming out to check out the interesting programs.

From Anonymous (not verified)
Tue, 07/09/2019 - 11:49am

Loneliness is an issue that affects people of all ages. MCPL is doing a wonderful job of transforming libraries into a modern community spaces.

From Anonymous (not verified)
Wed, 07/10/2019 - 11:57am

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