Public Libraries and the Place of Kindness
Kindness matters: it is at the heart of our wellbeing.
The Carnegie UK Trust has been looking at ideas to embed kindness in workplaces, services and communities, and exploring the role of kindness in public policy. As Ben Thurman describes, we seek to go beyond the concept of random acts of kindness to consider the ways in which kindness is structural. On World Kindness Day, what better time to think about kindness and to ask ourselves: what role do public libraries play in creating the conditions for it?
New research by Carnegie UK Trust has delved into the extent to which communities are kind places and whether we experience kindness from each other and the services we use. The data, compiled for Carnegie UK Trust by Ipsos MORI, covers the experience of people in relation to communities and services – including public libraries – across the UK and Ireland.
The data reveals that a staggeringly high proportion of people agree that they are treated with kindness at the public library (96% of those in Northern Ireland, 94% Ireland, 93% in Scotland, 92% in Wales and 90% in England). These are remarkable results which the public library sector should take great pride in. With loneliness and isolation occupying important places on the policy agenda, it is clear that public libraries offer people a safe and welcoming space – and have a hugely significant role to play.
However, even for libraries there remains more that can be done – because while almost everyone regards libraries as kind, the positive scores that libraries receive do drop significantly when it comes to the proportion of those who strongly agree with this view (44% in Northern Ireland, 49% Ireland, 56% in Scotland, 45% in Wales and 33% in England). Furthermore, in England and Wales, those in social grade ABC1 are more likely to strongly agree that they are treated with kindness in public libraries than those in C2DE. (This trend is reversed in Ireland and Scotland.) Again, those aged 55+ are more likely to strongly agree that they are treated with kindness in public libraries than other age groups in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Libraries may wish to explore these findings further and identify what action they might take to offer even kinder services to their users.
We know from our earlier work on kindness that places, opportunities and values encourage kindness. Welcoming places that are free to use, free from agenda, offer warm hospitality and have kind people in them enable kindness. Likewise, opportunities for connections, making an effort to connect and act in kindness, and giving permission to oneself and to others to be kind are important in facilitating kindness.
The recent findings on kindness perhaps then beg the question of: to what extent do libraries and library staff embody these qualities and to what extent is their ability to provide these enablers challenged or limited by a (very important and valid!) concern with risk, regulation, professionalism, performance management and by broader changes in the external environment?
The Trust has called for public policy that better responds to our need for kindness, emotions and human relationships; to balance the gains of a rational lexicon (including scrutiny, evidence, data and accountability) with the benefits of a relational lexicon (such as wellbeing, spontaneity, intuition and warmth).
On World Kindness Day, we ask those working in and with public libraries – and not just frontline staff – to consider the place of kindness in the services they offer and what facilitates and inhibits kindness.