Faced with pressure to cut costs, Kent libraries plan to experiment with the ‘Library Extra’ system.
“Library Extra enables customers to come into the library when no staff members are present, using a door entry system with a specially enabled swipe card. The Library Extra system controls the lights, CCTV, alarms and PA system to maximise safety and security. Customers who choose to sign up to Library Extra are able to use the self-service machines to issue and discharge books and other items, pay charges, and access the public desktop computers and Wi-Fi.”
Could this be the beginning of the end for our libraries as centres of community learning and literacy instead turning them into a sort of Amazon Locker service?
Does it matter if libraries close down?
It matters because literacy underpins education, skills and life opportunities. It matters because not everyone can afford to buy books or are able to read from a screen. It matters because libraries hold events for the community that are accessible and stimulating. It matters because library partnerships with schools can introduce children to embrace literacy at the beginning of their young lives leading to better life chances.
Children from families in which reading and literacy are less highly valued can be given opportunities they may not otherwise experience. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport acknowledges that increases in library use are often linked to the wish to encourage a child to read. We need to hold onto the trained librarians that we still have to enable this to continue.
It matters because the unemployed, those with a long term disability and BAME groups rely on the libraries more than the general population. Research funded by the Arts Council in 2015 found that, after controlling for a wide range of factors, library use is positively associated with subjective wellbeing, with library users having higher life satisfaction, happiness, and sense of purpose in life.
The LRA strategy document acknowledges that in Kent our population is growing. It is estimated that between 2011 and 2031 there will be an additional 396,300 people living in the county, an increase of 23%. This will take the total population to an estimated 2,127,600.
Kent’s population is ageing. The number of people aged 65 and above is forecast to increase by 64% between 2011 and 2031, and those aged 80+ are forecast to increase by 94%. Census information shows that Kent’s population is becoming more diverse, with the percentage of people in the county who are from black and minority ethnic groups doubling between 2001 and 2011 (to 6.3% in 2011).
So, shouldn’t we be promoting our community library services instead of cutting them?
We have an estimated population of 1,581,600 people in the Kent County Council area of which approximately 1,344,000 are adults but this is set to rise substantially. We have only 138,400 active library borrowers. Kent County Council will be spending around £1.132 billion in the 2021/2022 budget on services, and libraries account for approximately only 0.75 of 1%.
Budget decisions are based on library use. So become an active participant. Tell others and encourage families and community groups to get involved. Use your libraries or you will lose them.
If you are a resident in the Kent County Council area, libraries are there for you and they are now open. You can join the online library immediately. If you want access to full library services, and I hope you do, go to a library with one piece of identification proving your address to get your card and pin number.