For the second of our ‘Love Your Library’ blog series, Kate Ashton, Assistant Manager of Haverhill Library of Suffolk Libraries writes about how libraries are more than just a sum of their books; they are a destination, a place where communities come together.
When the Writers’ Centre asked me to write a blog on what libraries mean to me, I was flattered, then I thought, help, where do I begin? And so, I’ve shamelessly borrowed the following idea ‘thunk of the day’ from my colleague, Matt Shenton, our Literacy Ambassador. My thunk (also borrowed from Matt, thanks Matt by the way):
‘Is a library still a library when all of the books have been taken out and borrowed?’
Take a moment to think about it, and then read on.
Ask this of me or any of my colleagues in the library service and you’ll get a resounding ‘yes, of course!’ but I’ll explain our thinking.
A library is so much more than just borrowing books (although as a confirmed bibliophile they are still hugely important). Your local library, regardless of whether it’s a big town library open all day every day, or a small village library open for a few hours most days, will offer you books, DVDs, CDs, games, free computer access, free wi-fi access, printing and faxing facilities (for a small charge), Bookstart activities for pre-school children, book groups, craft activities on a Sunday, activities for older people and of course the Summer Reading Challenge. From all of these activities, we have seen friendship groups form; there’s now a regular group who come to our Bookstart sessions and then go for a coffee and cake in the coffee shop next door once the session has ended.
Since we moved out of the county council in August 2012, our repertoire as a service has expanded. Take a look at our website, and you’ll find that you can download and borrow ebooks, eaudio and download and keep magazines and music – all of this is free. There’s also a whole range of activities going on, from music gigs to crime festivals, writing groups to tablet courses, and magic shows to visits by owls. All of this is provided by enthusiastic and passionate library staff with the support and assistance of committed volunteers from community Friends groups.
Increasingly, libraries are one of the remaining few safe, welcoming, non-judgemental and free spaces that you can visit regardless of who you are. We really are here for everyone!
Our ethos hasn’t changed from the time when Andrew Carnegie’s programme for founding libraries took off, although our purpose and function may have altered slightly, and as you can see, we do more than just books now. Libraries remain an integral part of society, we provide you with information and access to support services, such as our Warm Handover scheme, which helps people with specific needs to access support services in Suffolk with just one referral. This is a fantastic service which I think should be picked up and used in other authorities, and libraries are an ideal focal point from which such referrals can be made.
As societies and communities become more fragmented and isolated, libraries need to remain at the heart of their local community and become a focal point for people to come together and engage with others. We are all aware of people within our community who are isolated for many reasons, they live alone, language is a barrier, limited mobility, and their weekly visit to a library is a lifeline, an opportunity to interact and engage with another person or group of people. We cannot record or quantify what that interaction means to someone but it is immeasurable.
As libraries, we want to sit at the heart of our local community and in Suffolk we now have greater flexibility to respond directly to the needs of our local community but we need you, to come in, use us and tell us what you need. If you haven’t been in your local library for a while, pop in and take a look around… you’ll be surprised at what you will find!
Kate Ashton is an Assistant Manager at Haverhill Library in Suffolk.
I joined the library service back in September 2006 as a relief member of staff and have been Assistant Manager at Haverhill Library for almost 7 years. In my time at the library, I have dressed up as Max from Where the Wild Things Are for the Big Wild Rumpus and Tonks for Harry Potter Night. Outside of work I like to read and run, although I cannot run as fast as I can read. My literary heroine is Matilda Wormwood from Matilda – who wouldn’t want to be her? She could spell Mississippi by the age of 5 and outwit adults without breaking sweat.
Across the country and the world, libraries are facing unprecedented threats. Lack of funding and cost-cutting means that in the last 12 months the UK has lost 49 libraries: almost one a week. In light of this, WCN is running a series of blogs under the title ‘Love Your Library’, a follow up to the #LibraryAdvent project. WCN has worked closely with library services on a number of projects, including Brave New Reads; an immersive reading programme which recommends brilliant books.