Why we need libraries



A leading charity has said that social isolation among the elderly has reached a state of national emergency:

“Trevor Lyttleton, chairman of Contact the Elderly, said the number of lonely pensioners aged 75 or older was at its worst more than any time in the almost 50 years since he founded the charity,” reports The Independent. “Some go whole weeks without any human contact. … Last year, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the 800,000 people suffering from chronic loneliness ‘a national disgrace’.”

And as Mary Rance, the charity’s chief executive, points out, “The impact of loneliness runs deep, with many people suffering severe mental and physical health issues as a result.”

Another leading charity, Age UK, highlights the importance of local libraries for elderly people in rural areas:

“Libraries,” they say, “are seen by many as a lifeline and a crucial public service, especially if you are elderly, socially isolated, poor, vulnerable, or all of the above. In rural areas, the local library, along with the village hall, pub and shop, is the focal point of community life. It’s a safe, trusted place for meeting friends and neighbours, a place for learning, information and leisure and sometimes just a place to keep warm.”


Small rural libraries must be protected, states the Age UK charity, for the following reasons:

1. They’re accessible

 The obvious advantage of having a local library is that it is local. Accessibility is crucial if you have mobility problems and/or haven’t got the money for bus fare.

2. They help to bridge the digital divide

Elderly people in rural areas face significant challenges when it comes to IT access, including infrastructure problems and set-up costs. The vast majority of public libraries offer free IT access and basic IT training to the public.

3. They help to combat social isolation

Libraries are social places where people can chat, read and keep in touch with the outside world. For elderly people who can’t access a static library, mobile and housebound services can fill the gap. Sometimes a friendly smile from a library worker can make all the difference to an isolated and vulnerable person’s day or week.


Chagford resident Ruth Olley notes that the library provides a crucial lifeline to many members of our own community:

Every time I go into the library I see the amazing work our librarian does for the elderly and infirm. She goes over and above her job description and is an obvious supportive, caring figure for these vulnerable people — from assisting with appropriate reading material, large print books and audio books for those who are visually impaired, to offering a warm, friendly and caring face (and sometimes the odd cup of coffee!) to those who might otherwise have few meaningful connections with the wider community.”

As Age UK states plainly:

“Public libraries can help to improve the quality of life of the rural elderly, therefore it’s vitally important that we protect and improve them for future generations.”

Kid’s Corner



Don’t know what to read next? Try the books on this year’s long-list for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize  — which is the only prize of its kind judged by fellow writers.

Ranging from Kate DiCamillo’s story of a squirrel narrowly saved from a vacuum cleaner, which won her the Newbery medal in the US earlier this year, to Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon’s vision of the gods returning to earth to seek fame as celebrities,  the long-listed titles are “challenging, funny, exciting, beautiful, thoughtful, bonkers”, said judge and author Gillian Cross.

Here’s the list:

The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby: Flora in Love by Natasha Farrant (Faber)
Phoenix by SF Said (David Fickling)
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Walker)
The Dark Wild by Piers Torday (Quercus)
Shine by Candy Gourlay (David Fickling)
We Were Liars by E Lockhart (Hot Key Books)
She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion)
The Lost Gods by Francesca Simon (Faber)

You can order any of these books through inter-library loan at Chagford Library.

(The short-list for the  prize will be announced in August, and the winner on 13 November.)

Kid’s Corner



Adam Lancaster, librarian and associate head teacher, lists his favourite children’s books featuring libraries (both magical and real), as well as books that have set his library alight, from Harry Potter to the Wimpy Kid. Go here for a book list full of great reading!

What are your favourite ‘library books’?

Photograph: The Hogwarts’ library in the Harry Potter series.

Why we need libraries



The following passage by playwright Alan Bennett comes from a lovely essay about the role that libraries have played his life:

“I have been discussing libraries as places and in the current struggle to preserve public libraries not enough stress has been laid on the library as a place not just a facility.

“To a child living in high flats, say, where space is at a premium and peace and quiet not always easy to find, a library is a haven. But, saying that, a library needs to be handy and local; it shouldn’t require an expedition. Municipal authorities of all parties point to splendid new and scheduled central libraries as if this discharges them of their obligations. It doesn’t. For a child, a library needs to be round the corner. And if we lose local libraries it is children who will suffer.

“Of the libraries I have mentioned the most important for me was that first one, the dark and unprepossessing Armley Junior Library. I had just learned to read. I needed books. Add computers to that requirement maybe but a child from a poor family is today in exactly the same boat.”

You can read the full essay here in The London Review of Books.

Library Campaign News



Here’s some very interesting information from our neighbors in Axminster, Devon, who are fighting to save their library too. They’re disputing the Devon County Council’s statistics on library usage and costs, with detailed facts and figures to make their case.

“Our library data is now a public resource,” they say. “You can see for yourself the figures which we have collated from the DCC Tough Choices website. Read all about DCC’s misleading numbers, about their policy of ‘super libraries’, about how small libraries are efficient libraries, and see the shocking variation of DCC’s spend per person across the county.”

* Go here for their full analysis of DCC Consolidated Library Data (10 page PDF).

* And go here for Library Branch Data A-Z (1 page PDF).

You can follow the Support for Axminister Library’s campaign on Facebook, and on Twitter: @SupportAxminLib .

Library Campaign News



Conversations with Communities: Devon’s Head of Libraries, Ciara Eastell, talks about the Council’s plans for public consultation:

Devon is a beautiful county with diverse communities and I’m proud to have led their Library Service for the past 5 years. Our service has faced a big challenge – we’ve had to save £3 million over the past 3 years, that’s 30% of the annual budget. My team and Devon’s communities have met this together and built a service that won the Bookseller Industry Award Library of the Year in 2013.

We have developed new services, like Free Fridays, which offer people looking for jobs help with new technology, and help with finding the information they need. We have also set up a range of public health interventions to support healthier lifestyles.  Our Devon Book for Summer for the past 2 years has brought the best new books to the attention of readers across the county as part of an ongoing partnership with the publishers Transworld and our Summer Reading Challenge now reaches almost 10,000 children across Devon, 10 times more than it did 10 years ago.

Our staff have more freedom to work with other people and organisations; my colleagues are encouraged to seek funding for new projects that support and enhance our core roles and, as Head of the Library Service, I see my role as increasingly entrepreneurial, spotting opportunities to align the library’s contribution to public health, economic development and social care prevention.  It’s no surprise, given our team work, that we’ve secured over £300,000 over the past 2 years to support these agendas and recently secured significant additional investment from public health to roll this work out still further over the next 3 years. Proof that we’re making the case successfully and that commissioners understand the potential of libraries.

Now we stand on the threshold of another challenge.  Having saved £100 million over the past 3 years, Devon County Council now has to save a further £100 million in the next budget cycle.  All services are subject to serious review and rationalisation. The Library Service needs to save a further £1.5 million over the next 3 years…..


Read the whole article (first published on April 2nd, 2014) on the Society of Chief Librarians website.