The British government has been prioritizing addressing loneliness, including appointing a Minister of Loneliness. A recent report on social issues and reading, titled “A Society of Readers,” was produced by the non-profit The Reading Agency and the think-tank Demos. According to the report, in 2014 there were about 5 million people over the age of 60 lonely in the U.K., and they project that number will reach 9 million by 2030. In the U.S., there are currently about 47.8 million lonely adults over the age of 45, based on an Association of Retired Persons report. Currently, the overall size of the U.S. population is about five times the size of the United Kingdom. 

As part of addressing this challenge, libraries in the U.K. began supporting a new program called “Reading Friends” in June 2017. The program was developed by The Reading Agency with the goal to “empower, engage and connect older people who are vulnerable and isolated, people with dementia and [caregivers] by starting conversations through reading.”

The program works with libraries and other non-profits to match volunteers and members of the community to build relationships using reading. Groups and partners meet regularly to read together in libraries, assisted living facilities, and community centers. In 2017, the program reached 624 participants and included 104 volunteers. The evaluation of the first year found that 88% of the participants agreed that the program had “increased opportunities for social contact.” Eighty-eight percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the program “added purpose to their week.”   

The “Society of Readers” report also reviewed many studies on the relationship between aging, reading, loneliness, social isolation, and dementia–many of which found evidence that suggests that people who read fare better than their peers. This study on aging and leisure activities, including reading, and this study on cognitive activities and aging from a neurological perspective, may be of particular interest to the library community.

To read the full “Society of Readers” report, click here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.