As summer transitions to autumn, we find ourselves in a season of transformation, reflection, and, for some, intensified feelings of loneliness. Loneliness often sneaks its way into our lives during the fall for a variety of reasons. As the weather cools and daylight hours decrease, the shift from outdoor activities to indoor routines can leave us feeling isolated. The transition from the nonstop action of summer to the quieter fall can sometimes magnify a sense of lonesomeness. And with holidays seemingly right around the corner, feelings of isolation can intensify due to the gap between idealized expectations and the often more complex reality of the season.
Loneliness is often thought of as a feeling or an emotional state, but its effects extend far beyond a feeling. In fact, earlier this year, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a Surgeon General Advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country.
It may come as a surprise to suggest that libraries, those quiet sanctuaries of books and knowledge, play a pivotal role in combating loneliness. Libraries have evolved far beyond being mere vessels of printed material. They have transformed into vibrant community hubs, serving as a fundamental refuge for the lonely and a haven for those simply yearning for human interaction.
A Welcoming Space
Libraries have always been known for their welcoming atmosphere. More than simply “feeling” welcoming, libraries are one of few public places left in America that are truly welcome to all. Jennifer Howard, author of The Complicated Role of the Modern Public Library shares, “Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises. One place, though, remains open to everybody. The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code.” For individuals grappling with loneliness, the library provides a haven where anyone can escape the noise of the outside world with nothing required of them.
A Hub for Social Interaction
Contrary to the stereotype of libraries as silent, many modern libraries, including our own Bozeman Public Library, actively encourage social interaction. Modern libraries have evolved to offer a wide array of programs and events that encourage community engagement and foster a sense of belonging. Book clubs, crafting meet-ups, yoga classes, concerts, lectures, the list goes on. Your local library provides opportunities for individuals to connect over shared interests and make new connections.
Access to Technology
In our digital age, access to technology is fundamental. Libraries bridge the digital divide by offering free access to computers, the internet, and various digital resources. This access is especially vital for those who may not have these resources at home, allowing them to connect with others online, stay current with virtual medical appointments, and access information and resources that can help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Inclusivity and Diversity
Libraries are inclusive spaces that celebrate diversity. They are open to people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities, socioeconomic status, and current circumstances. This inclusivity fosters a sense of belonging and helps combat the loneliness that can result from feeling marginalized or excluded.
In a time where loneliness is increasingly recognized as a public health concern, libraries have emerged as beacons of connection.