Two Toronto libraries are participating in a pilot project that is shining some light on what’s commonly known as the “winter blues.” This week, the Toronto Public Library put light therapy lamps in two of their branches: Malvern and Brentwood.

Staff at Toronto’s public library system, one of the largest in North America, were inspired by similar light therapy programs being conducted at libraries in Edmonton and Winnipeg, said Alex Carruthers, manager of TPL’s learning and community engagement.

“It was really successful and the public really liked it and we thought, ‘It’s dark here too,’” Carruthers told

Available commercially, therapy lamps are designed to elevate the levels of specific types of light in order to treat the “winter blues,” which is also known as seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a type of mood disorder that can be triggered by gloomy environmental conditions and a lack of sunlight.

Symptoms can include fatigue, irritability, lethargy, anxiety, weight gain and sleep disorders. Light therapy lamps are believed to counteract those symptoms by exposing the user to artificial light that mimics sunshine.

Carruthers said TPL decided to start the pilot program because it “seemed like it would be a really relevant and meaningful service here.”

According to research by the Canadian Mental Health Association, two to three per cent of people in Ontario suffer from SAD, with another 15 per cent facing a less severe experience.

Dr. Robert Levitan, a senior scientist at the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction in Toronto, is supportive of the pilot project. He said, when used properly, light therapy lamps in public spaces can help “a significant amount of people,” especially those who can’t afford to buy the devices for themselves.

“They’re hard to access,” Levitan told Tuesday, adding “It is a way for patients who cannot afford a light unit to at least get some light treatment and also to try it out, to see if it’s going to work or not.”

Levitan pointed to a study that suggested medications were as effective for treating SAD, “but the reality is that most patients prefer light.”

Light therapy lamps are safe, Levitan said, but he noted that those with certain conditions, particularly bipolar disorder or eye-related problems should be cautious and consult a doctor before using one of the lamps.

On Monday, light therapy lamps were made available to library users in the adult reading lounges. They can be accessed on a first-come, first-served basis, and at any time during the branch’s hours of operation. However, the lamps cannot be taken out of the library.

At Brentwood, a branch in Toronto’s west end, “people started using them right away,” Carruthers said. “It’s great, people are excited about it.”

During the pilot project, TPL is asking those who try out the light therapy lamps to fill out a paper or online survey for feedback.

“If we get positive feedback, we’ll try to roll it out more across the city,” Carruthers said.