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Libraries offer loneliness lifeline

 

Millions of people across the UK have received vital support from their local library during lockdown

Libraries have stepped in to offer a lockdown lifeline, helping 9 million UK adults to feel less alone according to a study by The Carnegie UK Trust.

The trust has published a new report assessing the impact of public library services since the introduction of lockdown restrictions. The findings show that some 15 million adults in the UK used public library services in the period between March and June 2020, almost two thirds of whom (60%) say their libraries and library staff helped them to feel less alone.

The Carnegie UK Trust found that library staff have proactively contacted as many as 3.7 million adults since lockdown began. A parallel study from Libraries Connected published this week found that over 130,000 phone calls were made by 130 library services. In keeping with their role at the heart of the community, 64% of those who had used the service during lockdown said that the library service had improved their wellbeing and 63% felt more connected to their community.

The positive impact of engaging with library services was broadly consistent across all population groups, demonstrating that public libraries truly are a service for all.

Sarah Davidson, chief executive of The Carnegie UK Trust, said: “Libraries have stepped up in lockdown to tackle loneliness as well as other forms of isolation. During lockdown, libraries have provided vital services to people with a range of needs, ensuring they feel connected and cared for, as well as offering e-resources and activities that provided education, entertainment, and escape.”

The report has also highlighted the important role libraries played in plugging the education gap for parents and children. With one in five pupils doing less than an hour a day of schoolwork during lockdown, many libraries doubled the volume of e-resources they loaned out, and delivered learning activities including interactive homework support, help for home tutoring parents, and new resources for local schools.

The Carnegie UK Trust report found that around one in three (32%) library users used e-resources or online activities during lockdown, with almost one in five (17%) specifically seeking out online activities for babies and toddlers.  Two thirds (63%) of those who engaged with libraries in lockdown said it helped them or their children to stave off boredom, and 68% said the service provided them with useful information.

Although libraries served all parts of the population during lockdown, they had the greatest reach amongst younger, more affluent users. While this mirrors patterns of library use pre-lockdown it highlights that libraries have more to do if they are to serve all parts of the population equally. Given that 7 million people in the UK do not have access to the internet at home and 9 million cannot use the internet without help, it is also clear that digital exclusion would have been a significant barrier for many potential library users during lockdown.

Davidson added: “Public libraries are a vital part of local communities, and they demonstrated this value during lockdown. However, with the right support our library service has the potential to do even more. The sector needs a sustainable financial model, and it needs decision-makers nationally and locally to give it the status that it deserves, recognising the unique contribution that libraries make to so many important issues. Library services also need to step up, by investing in their staff and by delivering really high quality digital and physical services – including a great range of books – based on a deep understanding of the demands of their local communities.”

Isobel Hunter, chief executive of Libraries Connected, said: "These new reports demonstrate the fact that libraries never really closed during lockdown. They provided an impressive range of activities both online and in person, to keep their communities connected, help the most vulnerable and support wider local efforts to combat the crisis. Libraries have proven that they are essential community services so they should be viewed as such and their buildings allowed to remain open when decisions are made about future tiered lockdowns."

 

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