It seems that libraries and their provision are seldom out of the news. A large percentage of our free Mature Times newspapers are distributed through libraries and we are aware that their opening hours are being curtailed and they are closing on some days.
When interviewing Ann Cleeves, author of Shetland and Vera TV series, she told me she became an Ambassador for National Libraries Day this year.
“Libraries matter. If we believe in equality of opportunity, we must fight not just for the buildings but for the range of books inside and the skilled staff who can promote reading in all its forms. Not only do libraries encourage us to be more tolerant and better informed, they contribute enormously to the wealth of the nation.”
A new chapter
As a fervent campaigner for local free libraries I have been in touch with the government department responsible for libraries and received the following response from new Libraries Minister Rob Wilson:
“Public libraries have the ability to support the transformation of individuals, communities and society as a whole. The range of outcomes they help to achieve is substantial and varied:
- stronger, more resilient communities
- enhanced reading and literacy
- increased digital literacy and access
- helping everyone achieve their full potential
- healthier and happier lives
- increased prosperity
- cultural and creative enrichment
“I’m looking forward to us working together in the future to ensure we are maximising this potential.
“This exciting new opportunity fits well with my existing role as Minister for Civil Society (previously in the Cabinet Office). There are a number of overlaps between my Civil Society work and what you are trying to achieve in public libraries, for example: encouraging volunteering, particularly of younger people; exploitation of new governance models (like mutuals, trusts and co-operatives) and new funding opportunities (such as social investment bonds and crowd-funding); and the importance of co-creation of services alongside the local community.
“The library sector in England, with support from the Libraries Taskforce, has already achieved much over the last year, not least ensuring over 99% of libraries now have free, high-quality, WiFi access available to their users. I’m pleased the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was able to fund this programme, providing a vital service particularly for the most disadvantaged in our communities. It is also a very visible indication of how libraries continue to evolve to meet changing needs.
“But I recognise we collectively need to go beyond this if we are to transform our library services and to ensure they are sustainable for the longer-term.
“As you would expect on my very recent arrival in post, I want to take a bit of time to review the document, visit some libraries and talk to colleagues. I hope this can be done quickly and the document will be published as soon as possible.”
Lending our weight
In the meantime, we must all keep up the pressure to support libraries, work around the restricted opening hours and offer our support when and where needed.
Not only can you find a vast selection of books to read and borrow at your library, but you can order ones which are not on the shelf, sometimes within days.
And of course our libraries offer far more than books. They provide internet access – with help if necessary – talking books, language courses and audio books. There are DVDs and CDs for hire, services for children, including storytelling, specialist local history music and drama collections. You can even hire sheet music and play scripts.
Some libraries offer a Books at Home service whereby a supply of books can be brought directly to your door by a dedicated, trained and experienced member of library staff. Library Services at Home users have access to the same range of materials as users of community libraries.
Many libraries run courses and host social groups such as Family History groups, Knit and Knatter where you can take your knitting and sewing and get advice and refreshments, a ‘Feel Better with a Book’ Group and Computing for Beginners.
If you have not been in your local library recently you may be surprised. The library can be the most important building in your town. It offers more services than you probably realise even exist – and most are completely free.
To find out where your local library is visit www.gov.uk/local-library-services – you’ll be very surprised what you find there.
By Tina Foster