Mobile library cuts to hit elderly and rural dwellers

Thanks to the Telegraph online for this one…

Nearly a third of local authorities have reduced or cancelled their mobile   library service in the last year, according to statistics obtained by The   Daily Telegraph.

The cuts are having a disproportionate effect on the elderly and people in   remote communities, who rely on the library vans for their reading material.

Prominent writers have condemned the cutbacks, with Joanne Harris, author of   novels including Chocolat and Blue Eyed Boy, describing reduced access to   books as a “dangerous thing”.

She said that mobile libraries play an essential role in many communities, and   their loss will hit people least likely to embrace alternatives ways of   reading, such as via ebooks.

According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information   Professionals (CILIP), 28 per cent of the 174 library authorities in   England, Wales and Northern Ireland have reduced the number of mobile   library vehicles that they operate over the last year.

Meanwhile a quarter of library authorities have reduced the number of stops   that their library vans make.

In 2010, before the budget cuts, there were 430 mobile libraries in Britain.

As 28 per cent of councils have since reduced services, it is estimated that   around 120 of these vehicles may have decommissioned or put on reduced   routes in the last year.

Phil Bradley, president of CILIP, said: “Reducing mobile library services hits   remote communities the hardest. These are usually in rural areas, which are   often without broadband for people to easily download ebooks.

“With large distances to travel to their nearest library building, access to   essential library services may now get even harder for many in these   communities.”

Ms Harris said that the reduction is “a great pity”.

“There weren’t enough mobile libraries to start off with, so the fact that   they are being reduced is bad.

“Older people and people with mobility problems rely on these services to keep   in touch. They are the sections of the population least likely to go onto   Amazon and buy the products,” she said.

The author said that she has vivid memories of the mobile library in Barnsley,   where she grew up.

“I remember when the mobile library was started as a child and it stopped in   the street. It was an event.

“People of my grand-parents’ generation would eagerly await it. It made people   talk, mix and share books. It was a happening,” she said.

Areas which have cut mobile library provision include Bristol, where the   service will end this month to be replaced by a scaled back home-visit   service. In Worcestershire, the number of library vehicles will remain the   same but the number of stops will reduce.

Somerset Country Council had decided to almost halve its routes and cut the   number of buses from six to two. However a spokesman said it is hoping to   reinstate the services after a review and “aims to provide as comprehensive   a service as possible within the current financial restrictions”.

Research by Somerset council found that it is not just the elderly that use   its service. A fifth of all books were taken out by people under the age of   16.

The West Midlands, the South East and London are the areas with the largest   number of library authorities reducing the number of stops, CILIP said.

CILIP found that library services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland –  including bricks and mortar libraries – have been hit by average funding   cuts of 7.5 per cent.

Over 2,000 jobs have been cut from public libraries over the last year.

Meanwhile the number of hours that libraries are open has been reduced by   3,000 a week, CILIP found.

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