Over the past few years, library closures have been a talking point among government spending cuts. However, since the lockdown, there have some notable changes in its appeal.
There’s no doubt that libraries offer a sense of community for a lot of individuals. The isolation caused by the pandemic has cut this resource off for many people that use the service, including children and the elderly.
However, many libraries up and down the country have taken steps to create a virtual platform where people can still enjoy and access everything.
Carol Stump, Chief Librarian at Kirklees Council, said, “such a lot of our work is about social interaction. Especially in smaller libraries, we’re sometimes the only ones people see in a week. We wanted to be sure that with libraries in lockdown, people could still access our services. And we felt they might be glad of a chat.”
Other libraries have also created challenges to support learning at home, such as Orkney Library’s Lego challenge and Truro’s services include story time sessions.
Uptake in digital services
Since lockdown measures came into effect, libraries have also seen a surge in online borrowing and an uptake in digital services. Somerset reported an increase of 544% of online library services, and Edinburgh libraries have also seen 30000 eBooks and 150000 newspapers/magazines downloaded last month.
Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP The Library Information Service, said, “It is incumbent on every generation to re-shape libraries to meet the emerging needs of their future society. For too long, we have been in thrall to a previous generation’s idea of what public libraries are for. COVID-19 is a tragedy on a global scale. But it might also just be the impetus we need to transform public libraries. Let’s not waste it.”
Proving to be a useful resource during the pandemic
After years of cuts, many applaud the way libraries are handling the pandemic. In the year up to March 2018, 127 British libraries closed, and there were 35 more closures in the year after.
Editor of Public Libraries News, Ian Anstice, said “COVID-19 has been to library services the equivalent of what the Second World War was to arms manufacturing,” he writes. “Suddenly, within a week in lots of cases, librarians have switched to online services. How good that makes library services look to their councils.”
It’s not just online services they’ve been helping out with either. Some libraries have been contributing to the PPE effort by using 3D printing equipment and laser cutters in their centres. A small team in Gateshead started printing facemask valves for local hospital staff and also created visors for local care homes.
“The team has now delivered nearly 2,200 visors to more than 50 different local care homes,” says Stephen Walters, Gateshead council’s principal library manager. “The appreciation has been overwhelming. One home applauded the driver as he made deliveries.”
The Arts Council of England is also supporting the efforts. It has recently announced grants of £1000 for each of the library services in England to purchase digital stock.