Aims and objectives:  UK health policy advocates a patient-centred approach to patient care. Library services could serve the rehabilitation needs of mental health service users through bibliotherapy (the use of written, audio, or e-learning materials to provide therapeutic support). Part 1 of a two part article describes a systematic review of the evidence for the effectiveness of bibliotherapy in mental health services.

Methods:  The systematic review of the literature used Cochrane guidelines, together with an overview of evaluations of bibliotherapy initiatives, and assessments of the needs of adult mental health service users for rehabilitation support.

Results:  The evidence strongly suggests that library-based interventions and the provision of information could be beneficial for service users and economical for the health service in assisting treatment of a range of conditions. At present, public libraries in the UK are developing basic bibliotherapy services.

Conclusions:  Librarians, including librarians working for the health service, might provide more sophisticated bibliotherapy services, but the evidence to guide delivery is limited.