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The Digital Toolbox — How Libraries are Playing an Important Role in Supporting Mental Health on Campus

by | Jul 18, 2022 | 0 comments


Column Editor:  Steve Rosato  (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH  44125) 

Against the Grain V34#3

One of the few positive developments related to COVID-19 has been an increase in mental health awareness.  This is especially true among young people and college students, with many expressing increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic.  As seen in the chart below, colleges have doubled their spend since 2019 (+113%) on mental health-related ebooks and audiobooks.  Student usage of these titles has also significantly increased.

©  Aggregated data from OverDrive-supplied
Academic libraries, 2019-2021.

According to Infobase Editor-In-Chief Jim Chambers, “All students worry about tests and papers, about their social life and other everyday issues.  The Mayo Clinic reports that up to 44% also report experiencing symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression.  Assuming many others share these symptoms without reporting them, it’s conceivable that more than half of college students struggle with mental health during their student years.  The Clinic also cited suicide as the third leading cause of death among college students.” 

Chambers continues, “While a variety of factors contributes to these troubling statistics, prevention and treatment of mental illness can help students reach a positive outcome.  Many students who seek treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental disorders experience significant improvement and recovery, but the hardest step is often asking for help.  Administrators, librarians and campus services play an essential role in reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues by prioritizing and providing information and access to health care resources.”

With many colleges and universities now working to expand their support for student mental health, let’s explore how the libraries at Rogers State University (OK) and Northeast Lakeview College (Alamo Colleges District—TX) are playing an important role in this process. 

Rogers State University

Collection Development and Outreach Librarian Michelle Owens reports that Rogers State University (RSU) in Oklahoma, like many institutions, has experienced an increase in requests for titles about happiness and self-care throughout the pandemic.

“In response, we purchased additional titles, curated OverDrive (digital book) collections and hosted multiple popular virtual events that featured resources and title lists on these topics,” she said. 

Owens said RSU Libraries works closely with the psychology and community counseling programs and student organizations such as the RSU Student Social Justice League, and regularly receives title requests from these groups.  In support of the campus’ observation of events like Mental Wealth Day, National Coming Out Day and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, RSU Libraries also selects related titles and curates OverDrive digital collections for promotion over social media.  

“We often collaborate with RSU Student Affairs, specifically our campus counselors, to support and promote their initiatives by using our resources,” she added.  “This might mean we purchase titles the counselors recommend or create resource lists to be printed or for social media promotion.  We create digital collection displays, design online guides and co-host events.”

Owens noted that in the past few years, RSU Libraries has also increased its inter-departmental outreach to host more fun and co-curricular academic events in person and virtually to support students.  This includes the annual RSU Resume and Cover Letter Workshop with Student Support Services and Career Services as well as housing the campus Community Cupboard with Residential Life.

Northeast Lakeview College

Northeast Lakeview College in Texas Director of Library Services Victoria A. Hart, MSLIS, said the library purchases books — both physical and digital — in the areas of mental health, self-care and personal wellbeing for the purpose of recreational reading, not just curriculum support.  She also shared a unique project the library has undertaken. 

“To support mental health, we recently collaborated with a corporate sponsor to start a ‘Zen Garden’ on campus for meditation and reflection,” she said.  “Their financial support includes purchasing materials supporting meditation and self-care.  When completed, we will market the materials and garden in a way that encourages they be used together.”

Hart explained that the Northeast Lakeview campus has a Student Advocacy Center that includes Disability Support Services, Mental Health Counseling Services and a Student Emergency Fund.  Other resources on campus include the Nighthawk’s Nest Food Pantry and the Giving Garden, a student-managed vegetable garden.  Both address the growing issue of food insecurity within the community.  In its inaugural harvest, the Giving Garden produced more than 330 pounds of vegetables.

And with collaboration one of the six core values of Northeast Lakeview, the library plays an active role in many of these exciting initiatives, and more. 

“As a community college library, we work closely with other departments to support mental and physical health on campus.  The Giving Garden was sponsored by a United States Department of Agriculture grant, written by a library staff member,” Hart said.  “We worked with the Wellness Department to create a program utilizing exercise bike desks around campus, including those housed in the library.  The Student Advocacy Center sponsored free mental health first aid classes, which several library staff attended.”

The pandemic has made many more people aware of the importance of mental health.  As we’ve seen here, academic libraries are utilizing a wide variety of programming and resources to support students who might be struggling.  And whether its digital books or collaboration with other departments, these efforts are crucial and highlight the continued importance of libraries on campus.  


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