Maintaining our top activity in the face of acute financial challenges

What is free, widely available and helps make a difference to people, families and communities?

Going to the library is one the UK’s most popular activities, with over 280 million visits recorded in 2013-14.

According to York university librarian Ned Potter, over this period more people went to the library than to Premier League football matches (13.9 million), the theatre (22 million) and the cinema (165.5 million) combined.

The West Sussex Library Service runs the libraries in Bognor Regis, Chichester, Midhurst, Petworth, Selsey, Southbourne, Willowhale and the Witterings, plus a community mobile library for smaller towns and villages.

Gareth Edmunds, library manager for Chichester, Midhurst, Petworth, Selsey, Southbourne and Witterings libraries, said the service was valued by residents and county councillors.

Gareth said: “Here in West Sussex, we have maintained our libraries over recent years despite extreme financial challenges. Libraries are a vitally important service, providing community spaces, supporting literacy and wellbeing and reducing social isolation.

“A strong network of libraries keeps libraries at the forefront of information and learning in our communities.”

Today, health, reading, digital, information and learning are five key areas for all ages.

Libraries encourage and enable reading for pleasure, for example providing books for reading groups, some of whom meet up in their local libraries. Their doors are also open to children, young people and families, who learn together on a variety of subjects, such as ‘Baby rhyme time’ and ‘Knit and natter’.

In addition, libraries serve as community hubs, where health and well-being partners provide valuable help and information, such as online digital access to key health information sites, and schemes such as Reading Well Books on Prescription, which helps people understand and manage their own health and wellbeing.

Libraries provide digital services and library staff, while volunteers help library customers develop digital skills. This includes free internet access to members of the library service and clear and accessible online library services such as eInformation, eBooks, eAudio books, eComics, eMagazines and eNewspapers, plus Access to Research, frequently on a 24/7 basis.

“The information service supports people with access to life-critical areas such as careers and job seeking, health, personal finance, and benefits. The information provided is carefully checked and much better than just Googling!”

The work of library staff is boosted by the support of an army of volunteers, who lend a hand on a one-off or regular basis.

Children’s services volunteers support children’s activities in libraries, including ‘rhyme times’, ‘story times’ and homework clubs.

Community library support volunteers, meanwhile, help members of the public and assist in library routines in community libraries.

There are also openings for computer buddies to help people learn the basics of using computers and the internet, either one-to-one or in groups.

Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award volunteers, on the other hand,can serve in a library as part of the scheme, helping customers and supporting a variety of routines.

Home library direct volunteers visit people who can no longer reach the library in their own homes or care homes; they choose, deliver and return library books and other items.

Local history volunteers help organise local studies collections, including the digitisation of photographs, and work on local history projects.

There are also openings for occasional volunteers. They can help with events, surveys and book sales, select books for care homes and promote and support the Library Service at local community events.

Reading group volunteers are also needed to run library-based reading groups or set up new reading groups in their areas.

Upcoming library events this month include a Christmas coffee morning at the Witterings Library on Thursday, December 14; a Christmas coffee afternoon at Southbourne Library on Friday, December 15; a Christmas coffee morning at Selsey Library on Tuesday December 19; and a Christmas coffee morning at Chichester Library on Thursday, December 21.

January 2018 events include an introduction to library resources for business start-ups on Saturday, January 20, at Chichester Library, featuring short ten- to 15-minute drop-in sessions between 10am and noon.

Ongoing regular activities include ‘rhyme time’, ‘toddler time’, ‘story time’, ‘knit and natter’ and reading group meetings.

Digital assistance sessions now take place at Bognor Regis and Chichester libraries; Bognor Regis library also holds monthly National Careers Service sessions.

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