How to use your local public library

Your local library
Libraries Taskforce, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to use the library service which has embraced the digital age with access to a huge e-library. By entering your library card number and pin to the Libby app you have access to thousands of books, including 2,500 children’s books. Download them onto your device and they are automatically removed at the end of the borrowing period.

There are also newspapers and over 3,200 e-magazines featuring top titles from BBC Good Food Magazine, Good Housekeeping and BBC Gardeners’ World, to the New Scientist, The Economist and Hello Magazine! If you prefer audiobooks, you can either browse the selection on the app or use the search function to discover if a book is available in that format. 

Books

For those of us who still want access to a huge range of books we can hold in our hands with pages to turn and bookmarks to use, then the Kent Libraries own app allows you to search for the book of your choice, locate in which library it is located, whether it is available on the shelf, on loan or in transit between libraries.

The app enables you to reserve it into your local library (for a fee of 80p) using their click and collect service. Your local librarian can help with downloading or using the Kent Library app or the Libby app if necessary. There are exemptions from library charges for some people and your librarian can advise. 

KCC Library Strategy

This strategy document recognises that the extent of library services in Kent is not well understood and has not been adequately communicated.

“Marketing findings from the public and customer focus groups showed that the majority of participants were unaware of the full extent of services that libraries have to offer. Even current users were unaware: for example help for job seekers, health and wellbeing books, delivery of books for care homes and day centres, support for people living with dementia and the people who care for them, our ‘Ask a Kent Librarian’ service, and e-books.”

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Libraries still have a huge role to play in housing literature, research materials, archives, local history and other resources. They also provide a safe and quiet space for study, crucially important for secondary school age children in families where study space is limited due to cramped or noisy living conditions.

They also provide books and literacy activities for young readers. In addition, they host community activities and a wide range of IT support, and courses underpinning education, health and work. Many important activities can only be completed online, such as bill paying and job searches, so free access to computers in libraries can be a lifeline to those unable to afford their own device, or who need help and advice. 

Nevertheless, especially with the pandemic, there is a trend towards screen-time over visiting physical areas and so libraries, along with other public spaces, are suffering from declining in-person visits. As local authorities are caught in one funding crisis after another, the library service is vulnerable to even more cuts.

Almost 800 libraries in the UK have closed since 2010. According to The Reading Agency there are just under 15,000 staff working in public libraries across the UK but over 50,000 volunteers. This may sound like an encouraging statistic but, although it is said that volunteers do not replace the work of qualified librarians, it is reasonable to wonder how many paid jobs our volunteers have replaced. 

Kent Library Usage

Kent Library Summary statistics (based on 2019/20 figures) from the KCC website.

  • customers borrowed 4,707,000 items
  • 4,102,000 visits were made to our libraries
  • we have 138,400 active borrowers
  • volunteers delivered books to 1,200 housebound customers
  • customers made 2,917,000 online contacts
  • 363,500 e-books were borrowed by customers
  • 85,600 e-magazines were borrowed by customers
  • 415,100 e-newspapers were borrowed by customers
  • the top issuing book for 2019/20 was Past Tense by Lee Child
  • library staff answered 351,200 enquiries
  • our wi-fi service was accessed on 105,400 occasions
  • customers renewed 1,199,000 items
  • there were 255,800 attendances at our events
  • we have over 1,304,000 items that customers can borrow
  • customers used our PCs for 345,900 hours

Budget Cuts and Changes to Services

In Kent, library use declined by 4.2% last financial year and, although the strategy document admits that they have not marketed their services adequately, they are using this as a reason to cut opening hours across the county. The LRA must achieve significant budget cuts in the coming years and declining use is being used to justify budget cuts.

“In light of our review, public consultation and decision-making process, we will reduce the overall number of library opening hours across the county by 18%. We have used data and evidence to develop a tiered model, which takes into account demand and use at each library. This approach ensures we make the best use of our resources and would save KCC up to £1m. The data used for this was the period October 2017 to September 2018. This model means reducing the overall number of staff we employ in our libraries. This could be achieved in various ways, including, not recruiting to any vacancies, early retirement, as well as redundancies. We will do all that we can to minimise the impact on our staff who are highly valued and respected by both us and the public they assist in our libraries.”

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The tier system of opening hours means that the smaller libraries serving the more isolated communities have their opening hours cut to just 15 hours a week.

This becomes a vicious circle with libraries closing causing a decline in library use causing more library closures justifying the reduction of services. Poor public transport and inadequate publicity of the services available add to the decline. This could be reversed by campaigns to alert people to the resources and services available making libraries a centre for their communities.