Survey finds positive impact of libraries during COVID

A report into UK public library services during lockdown has found they had a positive impact on people who engaged with them and that public library staff made a valuable contribution to the pandemic response.

Chris Buckingham.

However the report, Libraries, Lockdown and Looking Ahead, authored by Dr Jenny Peachey for the Carnegie UK Trust, also concludes that public library services and their staff could have delivered “much more” had they not faced certain barriers.

The report, based on public polling of 2,196 UK adults 1,196 responses to a public library staff survey and interviews with 22 Heads of Library Services, explored the role of public library services in supporting individuals and communities during lockdown, as well as their role in supporting the recovery from COVID-19.

The report found about three in ten people engaged with public library services during the UK lockdown, with more than 60 per cent of those reporting benefits including access to information, feeling connected to their community and less alone, and being supported to develop an interest or hobby.

Public libraries clearly have a valuable role to play in COVID – 19 response and recovery processes.

Chris Buckingham, President Public Libraries Victoria

It also found library staff who were redeployed during the lockdown were able to transfer core skills – such as customer service, information management, adaptability and teamwork – to supporting the community.

“Public library services are a vital part of social infrastructure,” the report says.

“The best of them enable, empower and equalise. COVID-19 has not changed the strategic priorities of library services so much as sharpened their focus.”

However, it also found barriers, including digital and financial limitations, meant that public libraries couldn’t act as a service of first resort in the way they did before lockdown.

Source: Libraries, Lockdown and Looking Ahead, Carnegie UK Trust

The report says looking ahead, public library services have “tremendous potential” to support individuals and communities across a range of local authority and government priority areas, something that has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“It is, however, equally clear that the sector needs to continue to adapt and innovate and requires adequate funding and support in order to fulfil its potential and deliver for individuals and communities,” it says.

It identifies a number of key messages and action areas for local and national governments, sector support bodies and the sector itself.

They include:

  • Delivering financial sustainability
  • Strengthening the voice and status of libraries
  • Investing in skilled staff
  • Acknowledging the digital future is here and resolving complex issues around e-books

Findings applicable in Australia

The report confirms the enormous contribution that public libraries in the UK have made to community health and well-being with very limited resources, Public Libraries Victoria president Chris Buckingham says.

He says the findings are applicable in Australia even though it hasn’t seen the same level of infection as the UK.

“Public libraries clearly have a valuable role to play in COVID – 19 response and recovery processes,” Mr Buckingham told Government News.

Public libraries in Victoria during the recent lockdown had also transformed the way they work, Mr Buckingham said, by providing outbound customer care calls and home delivery services, as well as expanding eResources and online program delivery.

It was critical that all levels of Government recognised the role of public libraries in supporting recovery from COVID-19 and ensured they were adequately resourced to do so, he said. 

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