Death positive libraries aim to remove the barriers to talking about death and dying through a range of innovative activities that appeal to diverse communities.
Thanks to funding from Wellcome Trust, The Wolfson Foundation and Carnegie Trust UK, Redbridge, Kirklees and Newcastle library services, and a team of academics from the University of Northumbria including Dr Claire Nally & Dr Stacey Pitsilides, have been developing events and activities that focus on engaging residents in conversations around death, dying and planning for end of life since 2018.
Redbridge Library Service coined the phrase ‘death positive library’ to reflect its contribution to the growing social and philosophical movement that encourages people to speak openly about death and dying. Anita Luby, Head of Cultural Services at Redbridge says:
“In the current climate, we have been prompted to think more about loss: the loss of normality, loss of work or income, and the loss of loved ones. It’s well understood that we’re all going to die but the problem is that we just don’t talk about it. We avoid planning for it and feel awkward around people who are grieving. In our society, death is an even bigger taboo than sex!
Almost 80% of British adults find it difficult to talk about death, even though we all have to face it. Not talking about death, not getting the right support and advice at the right time and the suffering that people go through when a loved one dies or when they are facing death themselves, puts enormous strain on mental health and wellbeing.
The pandemic has seen a huge increase in the average number of deaths and has prompted us all to think a bit more about death and what it means for us. Talking about the response to the project, Anita says:
“In the last year alone, over 5000 people have attended our digital events. Individuals have valued the safe place to connect with others, to share their experiences of loss and to have normal conversations about death. By using books, film and the arts we have created a gentle and accessible way to start conversations about a challenging subject, with over 60% of participants saying that they felt more comfortable exploring this topic in a library space than they would have done anywhere else.”
The time is now right to scale up and rollout a framework of support so that all UK library services can be death positive libraries. Libraries are uniquely placed to be a centre for bereavement support as well as a trusted space where conversations about death and dying can take place with caring staff on hand to help.
An overview of a death positive library
Working with colleagues across the sector, including the Universal Library Offer groups, we plan to create a national framework to enable all libraries to be death positive, so they can provide effective support focused on death-related issues for their communities.
Our approach will include identifying regional champions to act as advocates and developing toolkits and training to increase confidence and understanding. We also plan to develop partnerships with relevant organisations and services, as well as support the development of pilot projects at local, regional and national levels.