The topic of this month’s blog is a subject I care deeply about, and which I believe everyone can relate to in some way: loneliness.
I also believe libraries are uniquely positioned to help to alleviate loneliness.
A recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report, entitled Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, showed not only the prevalence of loneliness nationwide, but its serious individual and social impacts.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy stated that an estimated one in two adults reported experiencing loneliness even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which further exacerbated loneliness and isolation by cutting off so many people from friends, loved ones and support systems.
The 81-page report describes loneliness as “the distressing experience that results from perceived isolation or unmet need between an individual’s preferred and actual experience.” It can affect people of all ages, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic circumstances.
Unlike solitude, which can be beneficial, loneliness represents “profound threats to our health and well-being,” according to the report. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death, and increase one’s risk of heart disease and stroke as well as depression, anxiety and dementia. One key finding is that a lack of social connection “can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
While the report is troubling, it is also hopeful. The report states that community-based organizations can play a key role in reducing loneliness and social isolation by “creating opportunities and spaces for inclusive social connection, by building partnerships, and providing education, resources, support programs and volunteer opportunities.”
KCLS has done all this and much more, including hosting community and library events, developing meaningful programs, ensuring equitable outreach, and innovating services. I firmly believe that connection--bringing people together and building community--is the Library System’s superpower.
I know this not only as a long-time librarian, but from personal experience. Years ago, when I was a young mother new to my community and didn’t know anyone, I visited the local library for a Story Time. It provided camaraderie, a chance to meet and talk with other parents and caregivers. We shared, discussed and laughed. I felt connected rather than isolated.
In-person connections are critical. As the report states, “Social connection is a fundamental human need…we human beings are biologically wired for social connection.”
Proof of this came when our libraries reopened post-COVID. Lines formed out the doors. The outpouring of support was remarkable with many patrons telling staff how much they missed us, saying, “We’re so glad to be back!”
KCLS is here to help, support and to connect people through engagement and a wide range of opportunities. You can attend an author talk, book club, teen advisory group, or arts, business or education class for the fun of learning. Find out which experiences suit you on our website, kcls.org. Explore a dedicated webpage for older adults, a Study Zone for students, The Welcoming Center for refugees and newcomers, and Story Times for everyone.
Also, it’s not too late to participate in Summer Reading. It’s for all ages and runs through August 31, featuring programs outdoors as well as online and at libraries. There is still time to track your reading minutes and win prizes.
Join us! Head to your local library, learn something new, make friends—and know you’re not alone.