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Council consults on rural library services

One of England's largest county councils has teamed up with a charity to improve rural access to its library services.

Devon’s libraries attracted 2.7 million visits last year – welcoming more than 135,000 regular library users who borrowed books and used other library services.

Devon County Council and charity Libraries Unlimited say the high visitor numbers are a reflection of the broad range of services that appeal to a variety of audiences.

But the county’s mobile library and rural outreach services have remained largely unchanged.

The number of people using the mobile library service has fallen by almost a quarter since 2014/15 and the number of mobile library loans has reduced from over 90,000 to 64,000 in that time.

Now, the council wants to consider ways to increase take up in rural areas in order to reach more people who can’t easily access Devon’s 50 public libraries.

It has launched a review to find out what people think is most important about mobile and outreach library services so they can be better tailored to meet people’s needs.

Roger Croad, the council’s cabinet member with responsibility for the library service, said the local authority was striving to improve ways to meet people’s needs.

But he added: “Devon is a large rural county that presents many challenges particularly with dispersed communities and an ageing population.

“And while we have a system of making library services accessible to people who can’t get to their nearest library, it’s dated and it’s time we looked for ways to improve it.

Councillor Croad said everyone should be able to access library services, and new technology and smarter ways of doing things offer new opportunities to do so.

“We’ve got some ideas that we will share in our consultation, but importantly we’d like to better understand how people use the current mobile and outreach service.

Options could include extending the county's home library service, which delivers books and audiobooks direct to people’s homes.

This service is currently intended for people unable to visit a library due to ill-health or disability or are too frail to carry heavy books – but it could be extended to include other people too.

Alternatively, there could be transport arranged to take people to their nearest library.

The council is also looking at working more closely with local community transport providers to provide regular stops at libraries, so people from outlying villages can access services.

Another consideration would be to introduce a Good Neighbour Scheme to enable friends, family members or neighbours to collect and return books on someone else’s behalf.

Or there could be ‘pop-up’ libraries in some villages – working alongside local communities to use local venues on a regular basis to make library services available.

Ciara Eastell, chief executive of Libraries Unlimited, said the charity's mission was to reach and support as many people as possible with high quality library services.

She added: “We know that society is changing, and we therefore need to reflect that in the way that our library service is designed.”

The deadline for responses is 28 July 2018. People can take part in the consultation by visiting devon.cc/librariesoutreach.

People can complete the consultation online in any of Devon's 50 libraries, with paper copies of the consultation are available at all our libraries and at mobile library service stops.

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