Libraries as Venues for Animal-Assisted Therapy

Text by: Chris

Animal-assisted therapy has been highly visible in the Hong Kong library scene these past couple of weeks. Both HKU Libraries' pilot therapy dog programme and the recent visit of Dr. Pet to HKBU Library received attention from local media.

 Dr. Pet therapy animals and volunteers at the event held 30 November 2017 at HKBU Library - Click the photo to see the full album on Flickr

Dr. Pet therapy animals and volunteers at the event held 30 November 2017 at HKBU Library - Click the photo to see the full album on Flickr

The benefits of animal-assisted therapy have been long established. A meta-analysis conducted by Nimer and Lundahl (2007) found that deliberately involving animals in treatment plans was associated with improved emotional well-being. Such findings have attracted the attention of librarians, especially those working in university libraries where there is a seasonal spike in stress levels among students when final examinations loom. As early as 2004, Waterfield Library at Murray State University began a Pet Assisted Therapy Program (Keller, 2004) and the idea continues to spread.

As important study venues on campus, libraries are obvious, highly visible places to host such activities and attract attendance. I can honestly say that the recent event at HKBU was the most crowded that I had ever seen the Library! Thus in addition to reducing end-of-semester anxiety in students, the visit of Dr. Pet provided a great means for the Library to showcase itself as a community space.

 Social media content relating to the HKBU Library Dr. Pet event was extremely popular

Social media content relating to the HKBU Library Dr. Pet event was extremely popular

Engagement extended to social media as well. In reporting on an animal-assisted therapy programme at the University of Toronto, Bell (2013, p. 13) noted that social media content relating to the programme was much more popular than other content. The same was true for HKBU Library, with posts relating to Dr. Pet ranking in the top 5% of our content in terms of views, reactions, and shares. We also used this as an opportunity to try out Facebook Live for the first time. This allowed us to stream the event as it was happening and keep the video on our timeline afterwards.

This post has focused on animal-assisted therapy in academic libraries, but I am sure this would be effective in other library settings too. If anyone has experience of pet therapy events in public, school, or other types of libraries in Hong Kong, do please leave a comment!


References

Bell, A. (2013). Paws for a study break: Running an animal assisted therapy program at the Gerstein Science Information Centre. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 8(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v8i1.2403

Keller, T. (2007). 'Twas the season for stress: Murray State University's Waterfield Library provides relief in a familiar touch - a pet. Kentucky Libraries, 71(1), 8–10.

Nimer, J., & Lundahl, B. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(3), 225–238. https://doi.org/10.2752/089279307X224773