Driving Mobile Libraries Away

Sadly last weekend, Hertfordshire County Council decided from 31st Oct 2015 they will cease running its mobile library service currently operating in and around its many towns and rural areas. Having previously blogged about how libraries are struggling with funding now (Never Judge a Book by its Cover) I can appreciate that paying for the upkeep and running costs of mobile vans is pricey for a non-profit council run organisation. However, I can’t help thinking what a loss it will be for the community. As a mum, I use it for my children for its convenience. We don’t have to drive. We can walk to it after school. It’s a small activity but always very much looked forward to. So for us it’s not a necessity as I have a car and am able to drive to our local town library but for many others who use it, this is not the case. The elderly or those who can’t drive for example rely on this service, many playgroups, childminders or nurseries use the facilities for under 5’s as an alternative to the risk and costs involved with using transport. So once again it appears the decision boiled down to funding priorities because even if many more people had signed up to use the service, unless everybody kept forgetting their books and paid huge fines every time, this free service closure was probably an unfortunate inevitability. So what is the answer?

The council are working on introducing two initiatives which they believe to be far more cost effective and beneficial for the current mobile library users. These are the home library service scheme and increased support for community book swaps. Any money savings made from the mobile service cuts, it is said will be put towards keeping the static libraries open and updating their image, services and facilities.

As a free book delivery service for any resident (who fits the criteria of “mobile difficulties, disabilities or caring responsibilities”), I can see the home library service could be invaluable for many who are unable to get out, but what about those who can but cannot drive? For some this service could be taking away a reason for them to get out and a chance to socialise.  There are talks of free transport for under 5’s and the elderly which all sounds better in terms of meeting others but its use is still limited to a small part of the community.

Currently there is less information available regarding the proposed community book swap schemes but it is an idea which has cropped up in various guises over the last few years. One of the more popular schemes in some rural areas of the UK involve the residents using a red phone box as a place to donate and store books to exchange. It is a scheme based on trust and has proved to be a positive step for many communities – although dangerous shelving has caused BT to step in before now! Other big ones are the London Children’s Book Swap which takes place annually at various venues across London and Books for London in Stratford station since 2012. There is also a growing trend towards the use of book swap websites which are proving to be another easy alternative to libraries. So with libraries no longer bringing their service to the customer but expecting the customer to go to the library instead, has the council merely made it harder for this already dwindling community activity to be revived or is it just another sign that the digital age is changing the way we interact and socialise?

Until we hear more about the new library initiatives being proposed, we cannot judge as all is still to be revealed to the public but it is looking like it’s going to be the memberships of the parents and children of school age that the libraries are in danger of losing. It will be those who are able to travel, those who are not high on the priority list and those who can order a second hand book from Amazon for less than the cost of driving to their nearest town library. It’s going to have to be an impressive library for us to make the effort, with more on offer than just a bigger selection of books to make the trip worth it. Remember change can be a good thing though and who knows maybe my dream of an interactive library is just around the corner?

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

Library Girl

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh but we do……every day of our lives. A multi billion pound advertising industry relies on us doing just that – judging a book by its cover. Of course I am talking both literally and metaphorically here. How do you choose a book for yourself or your child? Most people will initially say the cover. Why? Because it’s the first thing we see and the first impression we get. If that’s all wrong we are quick to assume the content must be all wrong and we move on to the next far more captivating cover honing us in. It’s the same with people. Like it or not, everyone’s done it at some point, whether consciously or unconsciously. If we’re not attracted to a person’s looks we make unsubstantiated judgements about them and can be less inclined or perhaps a little bit intimidated in getting to know them. Does that make us a nation of insincere, shallow creatures? The mere existence of this familiar adage shows we do frequently need reminding that ultimately what counts is not what is on the outside but what is on the inside. That is where the true interaction and satisfaction lies but sadly accepting this fact often evolves through experience opposed to instinct.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on Children’s Libraries Built to Inspire showing photos of some incredibly innovative designs but the reality is that with many of the smaller local libraries struggling to get funding we need to look deeper to truly appreciate their benefits. Without libraries where else do we get free books? No matter how much cheaper books become to buy, a free book will always remain priceless. Even when they cost just one or two pounds to buy, not everyone can afford to endlessly dish out a pound for a new book, it soon adds up. Not everyone can afford a tablet to benefit from the numerous free e-books available and even if we can, there are so many other things a growing family demands.

So do we still think first and foremost a library’s diminishing funds should be spent on making it look pretty? Surprise, surprise this brings me back round to what is important and that is the interaction, connection and experience we gain from visiting a library, the long lasting effects. With National Libraries Day approaching this Saturday 7th February, it’s the ideal time to take a closer look at some of the events libraries are hosting around the UK to help encourage children to read and nurture a lifelong love of reading. Below is a summary of the types of events and library activities on offer, many free of charge.

Reading groups: choosing and discussing a mutual book with other children creates a reading challenge which can boost their understanding of the book as well as encourage them to read a greater variety of books which inevitably entails reading ones they may not have initially picked themselves.

Writer’s Workshops: provide hands on practical tips on creative writing methods and the opportunity to learn from others work and present their own writing. They demonstrate how regular reading can trigger new ideas and strengthen their individual creative writing style.

Illustrator’s Workshops: can inspire children to create their own stories with pictures and develop visual imagination and dexterity. Understanding the entire creative process involved in picture book publication can spark a new perception of what reading is all about. Many reluctant or struggling readers in particular can quickly get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of words in front of them. Understanding what the illustrations and images are conveying can help so many readers to break a book down into manageable sized reading chunks.

Meet a published author: We all know that when someone expresses an endless passion for something we can’t help but be drawn in too. Meeting a professional author in person and discussing their newly published book demonstrates to young writers what is achievable, offers first hand knowledge of the author’s thought processes behind the book and instigates a new found enthusiasm for reading.

New author book launches: in the same vein a new author can quickly spread their excitement of achieving publication for the first time. They can offer fresh advice on how to become an author, discuss the drive behind the patience and determination it took to become a published author and tweak a child’s interest with something new to the book market.

Story time: Most libraries run regular story telling sessions for various age groups. These may involve quietly listening to a weekly featured book being read out loud, incorporating simple book crafts or puppetry to involve the children by animating the story or inviting a professional story teller to perform.

Book Festival Events: are frequently hosted at libraries. Talking about books whilst being surrounded by books makes for the ideal venue. Book festivals are a time when all the above events are multiplied and brimming with excitement, enjoyment and genuine interest.

So go on what have you got to lose? Check out your local libraries for any upcoming book events and let me know how you get on.

National Libraries Day – Sat 7th February