When the Covid-19 pandemic meant libraries could not use soft furnishings, it could have left stark spaces where young readers felt less welcome.
In Ripon, library staff countered that problem by creating a dazzling rainforest display, complete with a parrot and exotic greenery, to capture children’s attention and imagination.
But they kept everyone safe by hanging it from the ceiling – an example of the ingenuity and dedication from staff and volunteers that puts the library at the heart of the community.
The rainforest display was an effective answer to an immediate problem, but later this summer the children’s library is getting a permanent makeover as part of an initiative to encourage more reading among youngsters following the pandemic and lockdowns.
It means there will be more books available, better display space and, crucially, areas created to allow children and their parents or carers to read together.
But it is not just children who are well looked after by the library; like many libraries across the county, it hosts a busy programme of meetings and events, from Monday to Saturday each week. These include music and art sessions for children, art and craft events for adults, as well as a weekly coffee morning. It also supports many one-off events, including the forthcoming Theatre Festival, taking place in Ripon over a June weekend. Others have included displays of dance, a celebration of Diwali and a local history event.
During the summer, the library will also take part in a Yorkshire dialect study, in conjunction with Leeds University, which is following up on research conducted 50 years ago across the county.
The range of activities at the library would not be possible without the volunteers who help support the ‘hybrid’ operation that provides the time, expertise and enthusiasm that allows the programme of events to happen.
Outreach librarian Claire Thompson said: “We are constantly looking out for new volunteers; people can come to help as often as they want to and a lot are involved with things like customer service, making sure books are in the right place and unpacking deliveries.
“There are many other areas where people can get involved if they want to, however. Our volunteers do a tremendous job and are the reason the library can offer what it does.
“We also have young volunteers who do things like leading our Lego sessions for children on Saturdays. They are very popular and get booked up.
“They also help with things like signing children up for the Summer Reading Challenge and we are always open to suggestions from young people about what they would like to do,” she said.
Volunteers are aged 13 and over, with many having grown through childhood using the library themselves.
Often they may be sixth formers or working for Duke of Edinburgh qualifications, where volunteering experience is helpful for their progress.
Library staff include Shaun Doyle, who has worked hard to promote library services for young people through the pandemic and has his work recognised with an award, alongside other young librarians, as part of the Young Adult Librarians Team in North Yorkshire.
One of his ideas was to introduce a ‘self-care tool kit’ for young people, rucksacks which could be borrowed containing information and more to help those affected by isolation, from the comfort of ‘fiddle toys’ to recipes and factual information on where to get reliable advice on mental health matters. The kits are now available to borrow from all North Yorkshire libraries.
He also helped to make the library accessible to a wider audience by setting up an Instagram account.
In future, the library is looking to host workshops on issues such as careers and budgeting, to help young people as they mature into adulthood.