How Libraries Help the Tackling Loneliness Agenda

two sets of hands, both holding open books

Carol Stump, Chief Librarian for Kirklees Council and President of Libraries Connected joins us this week as our guest blogger. Carol has seen many changes in the library world, especially recently, but has never lost her belief in the social and economic value of libraries and the importance of libraries at the heart of our communities.  She believes libraries are places to meet, play and learn and to support everyone to achieve and become the best they can be. 

I was particularly pleased to be asked to represent Libraries Connected on the Government’s ‘Tackling Loneliness’ network, along with approximately 70 other organisations, as I firmly believe that greater things are achieved by sharing expertise and knowledge, and this has proved to be the case, culminating in The Tackling Loneliness Network Action Plan’.  

Libraries play a vital role in tackling loneliness. There are currently around 2,800 public library branches across England, in many cases the only neutral, free-to-use general community space in an area. They are very well used, both by independent visitors but also as users of Home Library Services. Libraries also have a role at the heart of communities with a high level of trust; and act as an important platform for wider civic society by hosting others to run activities.

Libraries were among the last sectors to be closed by Government on March 23 and the period running up to this was quite stressful, as the level of risk increased, and it became more difficult to keep staff, volunteers, and users safe. I was present in one of my libraries on  Saturday, the last day of opening and we were extremely busy with customers using IT and taking up to 30 books each! However, libraries quickly adapted – amazing things happened, including welfare calls to our older users and the spontaneous development of the “libraries from home” initiative – our fantastic digital offer to the public.

There were some great examples of public libraries tackling loneliness during lockdown – in Kirklees Libraries staff made a total of 10,000 initial welfare calls; 43 library users were referred to another agency in order to access additional support and over 300 requested weekly call-backs. 

Wokingham Borough Libraries are offering authors a virtual platform, “Authors online”, to connect with the public about their books, the publishing processes, and the many other aspects of being an author.

Lots more examples can be found at https://www.librariesconnected.org.uk/page/librariesfromhome

However, the physical library space is vital for effectively meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged and isolated in our communities.

‘I don’t feel alone any longer. It’s so good to chat to someone and good to have a laugh.’
Reading Friends member

https://www.librariesconnected.org.uk/resource/libraries-essential-part-local-recovery 

Social Prescribing and Libraries: The offer by libraries can be a solution to a problem or issue. For example, if someone feels disconnected or lonely then the answer could be the volunteering or group activities which happen in our library spaces. Social prescribing is a sustainable model for libraries because it places us within a broader landscape of community support. Within councils it also compliments the work of communities and helps community cohesion. This model relies on strong awareness of the library offer but where it works well, it is incredibly effective.

In Kirklees, libraries are part of the Kirklees Loneliness Partnership Strategy group, which sets out a vision that ‘Kirklees is a place where people and communities are more connected and support each other to develop meaningful relationships and reduce loneliness.” Community listening and engagement is a priority area for the network, along with the development of personalised and tailored approaches to addressing loneliness. The Library Service is a key member of this network group.

Re-opening our buildings to these visitors will signal the beginning of a return to normal in our local neighbourhoods; helping local high streets, shops and community facilities to recover from the lockdown.

You can contact Carol Stump on social media on Facebook and Twitter @carolstump1 

Responses

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  1. Thanks for sharing Adele. I heard something interesting at an internal event we were hosting a few weeks ago around libraries. Some of our grant holders were reporting that during the pandemic, those who were digitally excluded as a result of having limited finances were spending time outside of libraries (even when the building was shut) as they could connect to free Wi-Fi if they stood close enough to the building. 

    1. We had the exact same anecdotal feedback in Sheffield while I was still working at the Council. One of the things the local authority was looking into was the feasibility of extending free wifi to social housing schemes (we currently have it in the city center) but that’s still not enough.

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