Dr Sara James and Dr Juliane Roemhild have partnered with Yarra Libraries to discover whether a program of Shared Reading can increase wellbeing and social connectedness in the community.
Shared Reading, James explains, is not the same as a book club. “A facilitator reads aloud a short story or poem to a small group, encouraging discussion and self-reflection amongst participants,” she says.
While Shared Reading is widely practised and researched in the United Kingdom where the charity The Reader runs over 700 groups, in Australia, Shared Reading is yet to hit its stride.
So, James and Roemhild partnered with Yarra Libraries to explore the practice in the Australian context. The group met in person at the Carlton Library for a 90-minute session, once a week, over eight weeks.
“We gathered in the cosy reading area in the window looking out over Rathdowne street,” says James. “Up to a dozen people attended each week, with David Harding from Yarra Libraries hosting and Sonya Tsakalakis, an experienced bibliotherapist, facilitating the sessions.”
Preliminary findings have been overwhelmingly positive.
“The participants strongly agreed that the group made them feel better and it was something they looked forward to,” explains James.
“People really valued the opportunity to connect with others, to hear a diversity of perspectives from people of different ages and cultural backgrounds, and the opportunity to encounter literature they may not have come to themselves.”
David Harding, Community Engagement and Outreach Officer at Yarra Libraries, agrees. “Yarra Libraries were delighted to partner La Trobe University in presenting the recent Shared Reading program,” he says.
“The attending group quickly developed a close rapport and trust with each other resulting in a safe and respectful environment. Within, the participants were able to confidently share their thoughts and impressions of the short stories and poems we read.”
James believes that the pilot project “has shown that shared reading can be a cost-effective and inclusive way of helping re-connect communities and improve individual wellbeing as we emerge from the pandemic.”
“Our next step is expanding the project to reach more communities across the state, working with partners including local councils and philanthropic organisations.”