Council consults on ways to improve library services to rural and isolated communities
Posted on: 5 June 2018
Devon’s libraries attracted 2.7 million visits and welcomed over 135,000 regular library users last year.
Devon County Council and charity Libraries Unlimited, which is commissioned to run Devon’s libraries, says the high visitor numbers are a reflection of the broad range of services that appeal to a variety of audiences.
But while the diversity of services on offer in Devon’s public libraries has expanded beyond the traditional book lending service – with digital technologies such as 3D scanning and printing in FabLabs in Exeter and Barnstaple libraries; support for businesses and entrepreneurs; partnerships with health and wellbeing organisations; a growing range of arts and cultural events; and hosting local community activities – the county’s mobile library and outreach services in rural areas has remained largely unchanged.
Now, the Council wants to consider ways to increase take up in rural areas in order to reach more people who can’t easily access Devon’s 50 public libraries.
So it’s launching a review to find out what people think is most important about mobile and outreach library services, to shape the design of an outreach service that better meets people’s needs and offers access to the wider range of library facilities.
Options could include extending the Home Library Service, which delivers books and audiobooks direct to people’s homes. This service is currently intended for people who are unable to visit a library due to ill-health or disability or are too frail to carry heavy books, but it could be extended to include other people who need it.
Alternatively, there could be transport arranged to take people to their nearest library. The Council could work more closely with local community transport providers to provide regular stops at libraries, so that people from outlying villages can access the full range of library services, including local events and activities.
Another consideration would be to introduce a Good Neighbour Scheme, a new type of membership that would enable friends, family members or neighbours to collect and return books on someone else’s behalf.
Or there could be adhoc, ‘pop-up’ libraries in some villages. The Council could work with local communities to use local venues on a regular basis to make library services available.
And in response to the increase in usage of digital services, the move could involve investing in a wider range of eBooks, eAudiobooks and digital magazines to increase the range of online material, which all library card holders could access at any time.
The Council also wants to consider what to do with their four ageing mobile library vehicles, which have become unreliable, increasingly expensive to run, and carry limited stock. The number of people using the mobile library service has fallen by almost a quarter since 2014/15 and the number of mobile library loans has reduced from over 90,000 to 64,000 in that time.
Councillor Roger Croad, the Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the library service said:
“While many Councils elsewhere have reduced their library provision, we took steps with Libraries Unlimited that have kept our 50 static libraries open, with longer opening hours and an increased range of services on offer. The result is, we’ve got a far more resilient and innovative library service, which is acclaimed nationally as a good model, and that continuously strives to improve ways to meet people’s needs.
“But Devon is a large rural county that presents many challenges particularly with dispersed communities and an ageing population. And while we have a system of making library services accessible to people who can’t get to their nearest library, it’s dated and it’s time we looked for ways to improve it.
“Everyone should be able to access our library services, and new technology and smarter ways of doing things offer new opportunities for us to think about, that could help us reach more people in Devon’s rural areas.
“We’ve got some ideas that we will share in our consultation, but importantly we’d like to better understand how people use the current mobile and outreach service and how they’d like to use it in future, so that we can come back with a proposal to improve the service and make it more tailored to what they need.”
“We’re working closely with Devon County Council to look at ways of reshaping our mobile library and outreach service to ensure it is efficient, effective and designed to meet the needs of communities now and in the future. Our mission as a charity is to reach and support as many people as possible with our high quality library services. We know that society is changing, and we therefore need to reflect that in the way that our library service is designed.
“We’re looking forward to hearing from users of the mobile service, outreach services and from users of our network of libraries about what is most valuable to them, so that we can remodel a service that really reflects what people want.
“We know from our latest figures that people are still using public libraries in huge numbers, almost 3 million people in Devon alone. We also know that the number of people accessing our digital services, such as our online catalogue, digital magazines, eBooks and eAudiobooks continues to increase year on year, whilst the number of people using our mobile library has been declining steadily for a number of years.
“It’s important that we use this information to make sure we are serving people in the best way possible and that libraries continue to focus on the needs of local people and communities across Devon.”
People can take part in the consultation by visiting devon.cc/librariesoutreach. You can complete the consultation online in any of our 50 libraries, and paper copies of the consultation are available at all our libraries and at mobile library service stops. The deadline for responses is 28 July 2018.
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