We know that libraries are more than just repositories for books - they play a broad and valuable role in their communities. Public libraries are trusted spaces, free to enter and open to everyone. In them, people can explore and share reading, information, knowledge and culture.
As the national development agency for libraries, the Arts Council recently commissioned a series of reports looking at the impact of public libraries on communities as a whole and on people’s lives. Drawing on new research and existing data and including case studies, the reports each cover a different area of work:
Wellbeing of older people
Libraries can contribute significantly to the well-being of older people. More than one in three people over 75 uses a public library and the report shows how Wakefield’s dementia friendly library organises high-quality socialising activities and Kent’s digital independence service plays a role in delivering adult social care.
How libraries contribute to place-shaping
Libraries can also play an important role in promoting the general well-being of a community and its citizens, for example, in St Helens the library service responded to the low participation in arts activities by getting the local community involved in coproducing their Arts in Libraries programme with local people. The group in charge of the ‘young people’ theme commissioned a community cinema organisation to run a season of film screenings, but then also played a part in curating the selection of films.
Libraries as community hubs
Libraries serving as community hubs is not a new idea – but it is increasingly important and its success depends on reflecting and responding to local needs. Chelmsley Wood Library in Solihull in the West Midlands offers a Community Advice Hub, run by AgeUK and providing a range of advice and support for issues including benefits, caring and health.
Evidencing audience reach
It's common place for people’s use of libraries to fluctuate during their lives - the ‘life cycle of library use’. Trigger factors for people to use libraries include when they have children, lose a job or are studying, while the times when library use may lapse includes when they stop studying, start a new job, and their free time is more limited. The report also shows that libraries have broader reach then other cultural organisations and that 25-39 year olds are consistently the highest users in terms of age.
Darren Henley, Chief Executive at Arts Council England said: “Libraries reach people everywhere. They’re landmarks in our great towns and cities offering creative opportunities to everyone including in those areas where the arts and cultural infrastructure is thin. We want the contribution of what libraries already achieve and what they could in the future to be better recognised.
“We commissioned this series of reports to research, test and emphasise the role of libraries in their communities and in people’s lives. They show the important contribution libraries make to a range of national and local policy areas, including place-shaping and the well-being of older people. I hope these reports will be used by both library services and our partners to inform decisions and inspire future work.”
Read the reports here:
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