Books in a Hospital – Essential Reading

BooksPlus bookshopIt is widely acknowledged that reading is good for your health, that it can help in stressful situations and provide a form of useful escapism. So why doesn’t every hospital have a bookshop? I recently visited BooksPlus, a bookshop located in the main concourse of Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales. Although it is a Christian bookshop, it doesn’t just stock Christian literature. They have a wide variety of products from general fiction and children’s books to cards and puzzle books.   

“We sell a lot of children’s books,” explained Tom Ratcliffe, the bookshop manager, “as well as educational posters such as multiplication charts”. The bookshop also has a wide range of Welsh language books, which are very popular.

Welsh language books

BooksPlus opened in 1999, funded initially by local Welsh churches, and is still going strong today. I visited the shop on a Wednesday lunchtime and spent around an hour there. During that time a number of staff, visitors and patients came in to browse. The concourse is a noisy, crowded, busy place but, as soon as you step into BooksPlus, you enter an oasis of calm.

Tom showed me their range of medical help books, which provide information on a specific disease or ailment such as bipolar disorder or breast cancer. “These books provide access to medical information which is helpful for people, it can help to calm their fears,” Tom explained. He added that “some people want a form of escapism” and “fiction, joke books and quiz books help people to forget about their troubles”.

Medical help books

Medical help books are popular

The shop is staffed mainly by volunteers. Most of them are retired, but a few younger people also volunteer. I spoke to Margaret Medlow, who has been volunteering since before the shop opened in 1999. Margaret lives in Caerphilly, and found out about BooksPlus when Bob Evans (the hospital chaplain) came to speak at her church. “He only mentioned it in brief,” Margaret recalled, and she had no previous experience or interest in books or retail, but she felt called to help with this project.

Margaret volunteer in BooksPlus

Margaret has been volunteering in BooksPlus since the shop opened in 1999

Margaret described how many customers are impressed with the atmosphere of the shop. “They can’t always explain it,” she said, “but they often comment that there’s something different about this place”. She recalled having “lovely conversations” with customers, and showed me the prayer box, where anyone can write down a prayer request anonymously and each morning the box is emptied, and the staff and volunteers pray for people. “People find comfort,” she explained, “in not having to carry it all by themselves, just knowing that someone else is prepared to pray for them and remember them”.

I asked Margaret about the location for the bookshop, in the hospital’s main concourse. “The majority of people who come here need to wait for things,” she explained, “they’re waiting for ambulances or appointments or lifts, and they appreciate being able to just come in and feel comfortable flicking through a book, without the pressure of needing to buy something. They’re just filling a gap.”

Puzzle booksThere are plans for refurbishment over the coming year. They hope to make the shop more accessible for people in wheelchairs, and also to provide a larger, more comfortable seating area where people can spend time reading.

Have you ever ended up waiting in a hospital concourse, looking for something to while away the time? Or perhaps you have a bookshop in your local hospital, which is valued by patients and visitors. Please use the comments below to share your own experiences of reading in hospitals.

2 thoughts on “Books in a Hospital – Essential Reading

  1. I did my RN training at UHW, if I recall correctly, I believe there was a medical bookshop there and I’m pretty sure it also sold non medical books too.
    It’s a great idea.
    Do patients still get to borrow books? In some places here it has been stopped for infection control reasons. Sad but necessary.
    I loved living in Cardiff, it’s a beautiful city

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