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Norfolk's mobile libraries offer a vital lifeline and should be protected

July 2, 2018 4:26 PM
By Steffan Aquarone

Photo of mobile library

Libraries are seen by many as a lifeline and a crucial public service, especially if you are elderly, socially isolated, poor, vulnerable, or all of the above.

In rural areas, the local library, along with the village hall, pub and shop, is the focal point of community life. It's a safe, trusted place for meeting friends and neighbours, a place for learning, information and leisure and sometimes just a place to keep warm.

If a community is unfortunate enough not to have a permanent library, then the Mobile Library service fills the gap, helping those that are most isolated.

Let's look at the data for Norfolk:

  • There is a high and increasing number of over 65s relative to the rest of the country, at 23.1% of the population, compared with 17.8% nationally
  • The number of people aged 65 and above has increased by more than the rest of the population (77,900 more people aged 65 and above, compared with 28,300 more people aged under 65)
  • Around 26% of the population will be aged 65 and over by 2024.
  • 49.1% of people live in a rural area
  • People aged 45-64 and 65 and over age groups are typically greater in number in the rural parts of each local authority area than the urban parts
  • The overall likelihood of digital exclusion in Norfolk is rated as high.

The UK ONS Labour Market Survey 2017 showed that 90.2% of men and 87.6% of women used the Internet. However, for the 65-74 age group this falls to 79.1% of men and 76.0% of women. For the 75+ this is 47.2% of men and 35.4% of women.


Why are mobile libraries so important to the rural elderly and why must we protect and improve them?

  1. They're accessible

The obvious advantage of having a local mobile library stop is that it is local. Accessibility is crucial if you have mobility problems and/or haven't got the money to travel, or if it's a long way to the nearest permanent library.

  1. They help to combat social isolation

Libraries are social places where people can chat, read and keep in touch with the outside world. For elderly people who can't access a static library, mobile libraries can fill the gap. Sometimes a friendly smile from a library worker can make all the difference to an isolated and vulnerable persons day or week.

  1. They help to maintain a sense of community in rural villages

Some of the people using the service say "I remember when the mobile library was started as a child and it stopped in the street; it was an event," said one user

"People of my grand-parents' generation would eagerly await it. It made people talk, mix and share books. It was a happening," said another.

Photo of donkey carrying books

Librarian and teacher Luis Soriano uses two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, to deliver books to remote villages in the central region of the Department of Magdalena, Colombia. If remote villages in South America can do it, why can't we!

In Norfolk

There are 1568 mobile library stops across the county, which are used by 7525 people.

All mobile users

District

No.

Breckland

1195

Broadland

1053

Great Yarmouth

289

King's Lynn and West Norfolk

1757

North Norfolk

1179

Norwich

465

South Norfolk

1567

Out of County

20

No/Invalid Postcode

300

7525

Almost twice as many more women use the mobile library service than men and twice as many people over 65 use the mobile library service than under 65. Furthermore, 58% of mobile library users only use the mobile library service and do not access permanent libraries.

The Tory administration on the County Council announced in October 2017 that they plan to cut the service by 40% this year. However, there were no details given then and there are still no details on how this could be achieved without destroying the service.

With all eight of Norfolk's mobile library vehicles coming to the end of their life, these cuts could mean the end of the mobile library altogether.

Across the Eastern Region

Norfolk's mobile library service isn't the only one in East Anglia under threat: Essex County Council reduced its service from 557 to 213 stops this year, retaining only the most popular stops.

Suffolk Libraries, on the other hand, became an independent Industrial Provident Society in 2012 to run the service at "arm's length" from the county council in a bid to protect the service. It currently operates 3 large vehicles, visiting 587 different locations on a four-weekly timetable.

Liberal Democrat View

Sarah B├╝tikofer comments that - "When I went out on my local mobile library I heard from a number of people using the mobile library that the mobile library staff would be the only people they see during that week. They were older people and people with mobility problems who rely on these services.

"What we want to see is a mobile library service that meets the needs of the people who are using the service. Only once you understand this can you properly work out how what the service is for and how it should be run in the most effective way.

"The Tories' approach to cut the service by 40% first and then ask questions later will make the lives of those who rely on the service poorer and will make Norfolk a less caring county".