Library customers in North Yorkshire have embraced the opportunity to return to branches to choose books for themselves following this month’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.
In the first week of reopening from 12 April, the county’s libraries welcomed 5,125 visitors, who borrowed almost 21,000 books, and hosted 1,350 IT sessions.
Customers have shared their delight at being back in their libraries.
Library supervisor Hazel Clarke said: “A mum and her three-year-old son, Rex, came into Helmsley Community Library to look at the children’s books. She commented that he had been so looking forward to choosing his own books, as she had been explaining to him that under normal circumstances children can pick their own books and look around the library. He picked his own books for the first time and went away with a bag full of dinosaur, tractor and big machinery books. It was lovely to see his excitement!”
Mum Marie-Claire Pickard added: “Rex and I were so happy to finally be able to step inside the library. He talked about it for at least a week before our visit and was so excited on opening day I think we may have even been the first visitors to Helmsley library!
“The staff were all so welcoming and helpful, it just feels like a real step back to normality, which is so important for Rex at three years old, as lockdown was becoming his version of normal. Thank you to all the staff who helped make it so enjoyable for us, especially Rex. We've read a different library book every night at bedtime for the last week and look forward to our next visit.”
Other comments include: “We have just had a lovely time and felt very safe!” on Northallerton library’s Facebook page, a message to Boroughbridge library saying “So desperate to be here, so excited that you’re open again”, and to Whitby library saying “We got up early this morning so we could come in when you opened”.
County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “It has been wonderful to hear the feedback from people saying how lovely it is to be able to return to their library. This confirms our belief about how important libraries are to so many of the county’s residents. It’s great to see branches open again and I hope this time they will be able to remain open.”
The successful reopening comes after a challenging 12 months for the library service, but also a time of significant achievements.
Libraries General Manager Chrys Mellor said: “Libraries have been closed for much of the past 12 months, and even when able to open between lockdowns could offer only limited services, but staff and volunteers across county council and community libraries have worked very hard to engage and support their communities throughout that time.”
During this period, libraries have hosted more than 800 events, activities and story times online via social media and the home library service, for people or carers unable to visit a library, has continued to support more than 1,200 people.
The service has invested in its online offer, from e-books and e-audio books to newspapers and magazines, research and reference material and educational resources. Funding that in normal years would have been spent elsewhere within the service has been diverted to increase the e-book stock even more than planned.
Since April 2020, 311,000 digital books have been borrowed.
“We have seen an increase of almost 90 per cent in digital loans,” said Chrys, “and this is from a starting position of having some of the highest digital usage in the country. Because of the rural nature of North Yorkshire, we have always invested in digital services to be more accessible to more people.”
Physical stock has not been neglected, with about 44,000 hardbacks added to library shelves for returning customers to enjoy.
The service has welcomed 8,665 new members since April 2020 and despite being open for only about five of the past 12 months with limited access has welcomed more than 276,500 visitors who borrowed 559,000 books.
A Select and Collect service introduced in the past year has proved popular. It allows people to contact their library to request the sort of books they want, then collect a selection picked by a member of staff or a volunteer from their library’s entrance. Up to 10,000 books a week have been borrowed in this way. The service is still available.
A survey of people who used Select and Collect revealed that 93 per cent said it helped them cope with lockdown; 95 per cent said it helped to improve their sense of wellbeing; and 92 per cent said it helped them to feel less isolated.
Cllr White said: “This response helps to make all the hard work by our staff and volunteers over the past year worthwhile. Research has shown that use of public libraries is associated with higher personal wellbeing. Select and Collect, as well as offering a practical solution during lockdown, is the latest of the library service’s ongoing work to support wellbeing.”
Reading Well titles, endorsed by health professionals, are offered in all the county’s libraries to help people to help themselves. Ninety per cent of Reading Well users say it helps them to understand better their health needs.
The service also works with cultural partners to deliver activities to enrich the lives of children and adults and support local creative industries and provides access to national wellbeing initiatives such as children’s mental health week.
Libraries’ reading groups help members to feel more connected to other people and the service has introduced an Instagram page for young adults to help them to get creative and share ideas.
North Yorkshire libraries are also designated ‘safe places’, providing support to vulnerable people.
Find out more about current library services.