Lancashire's libraries: How Covid has impacted the way they are used and how they operate

When was the last time you used a library?

By Catherine Musgrove
Monday, 27th December 2021, 4:55 am
Preston's Harris Library has temporarily moved into the Guild Hall while refurbishment work is completed.
Preston's Harris Library has temporarily moved into the Guild Hall while refurbishment work is completed.

With information available mch more easily online, and books being sold cheaply on the likes of Amazon, it would be easy to think that the library service was becoming redundant.

But latest figures show that the service operated by Lancashire County Council is bouncing back after being dramatically affected by Covid restrictions, and is evolving to meet the demands of the 21st century, providing services you might not be aware of.

>>>Click here to read about the new temporary library in Preston's Guild Hall.

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LCC's Steve Lloyd at the reopening of Ansdell Librarty earlier this year

Steve Lloyd, Lancashire County Council's interim head of cultural services, said: "Disruption from the Covid pandemic has affected library usage. However, Since the libraries re-opened in April, loans are back up to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and visits are up to 45 per cent.

"People are making fewer trips but borrowing more books at a time. This mirrors the national trend and usage is continuing to increase."

Before Covid restrictions and closures, 3.45m people visited libraries in Lancashire in the year 2019-20.

This dramatically dipped to just under 475,000 for the year 2020-21, which saw doors open in April and only a full range of services available since October. However, ther service's online presence is growing, with an estimated 1.76m 'virtual' visits to the library's website in 20-21.

Libraries are responding to the pandemic

Which library is busiest?

In the year 2020-21, the busiest library in terms of issues was Lancaster Central, which issued 15,163 items.

The busiest in terms of visits was Preston's Harris Library, which welcomed 61,849 people through the door.

In 2019/20, in total, 3.56m books were issued by the service. This fell to 1.46m in 20/21.

Of those, the most popular category was adult non-fiction (759,584 issues), followed by children's fiction (435,811).

In 19/20, there were 144,296 audio visual issues (including talking books and DVDs), and in 20/21 there were 37,674.

Evolution of the service

Latest figures show that there are currently more than 13,500 eBooks available, 8,662 eNewspapers, eMagazine and eComics, and more than 9,200 eAudio and eAudiovisuals.

Mr Lloyd said: "Our home libraries service has been vital in keeping vulnerable people connected during the pandemic. We've also added even more online services so people can access books, listen to music and much more for free from their home.

"Our libraries are about much more than borrowing and they're also used for a variety of community activities from baby bounce and rhyme classes to scrabble groups. Craft groups at our libraries are currently making Christmas cards for local care homes as part of the Cards for Kindness scheme.

"Although the pandemic has had an impact, libraries still play a crucial role at the heart of local communities. We will develop the service to ensure they continue to do so."

How have libraries responded to the pandemic?

Libraries in Lancashire were closed in March 2020 as part of the county council's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The loan limit and issue period was increased during the week before closure to allow customers to borrow books for the lockdown.

A digital Library from Home offer was quickly introduced and promoted. This included a significant increase in the number of eBooks and eAudiobooks available for free download, a new magazine and newspaper download library, online Lego clubs, a new online resource offering free access to concerts, documentaries, operas and ballets and weekly short stories from rural touring organisation Spot On Lancashire.

In July 2020 libraries began to re-open with limited opening hours and services. The council introduced a new book request service called Six of the Best to allow people to safely collect a selection of books chosen by local library staff from the door of the library. This was immediately successful and has been integrated into the ongoing service offer.

There are also mobile libraries for more remote communities and there is a home library service, for people who cannot access their local library.