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HARTLEPOOL COUNCIL: ‘800% increase’ in online library service mermberships

HARTLEPOOL COUNCIL: ‘800% increase’ in online library service mermberships

Council chiefs in Hartlepool have seen an ‘800% increase’ in memberships to their online library services during the pandemic.

Hartlepool Borough Council officers outlined how a strategy is to be drawn up shaping how services in the town’s community hubs will be offered moving forward post-lockdown, including the library provision.

It was reported over the past 12 months the council has seen a huge increase in the number of e-books being loaned through its online service, Borrow Box.

However officers stressed they have no plans to remove the physical book offering in community hubs moving forward, and the strategy is about combining services to suit the needs of residents.

Gemma Ptak, council assistant director for preventative and community based services, praised how the offer has been provided throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which will help shape the future strategy.

She said: “We’ve obviously seen a reduction in book loans, but we started to see that decline before we went into the pandemic, and we’ve seen approximately an 800% increase of our online memberships and use of Borrow Box which is just fabulous.

“We know with our digital inclusion work we’ve been able to give people access to digital books, e-books, audio books, as they wanted them, as well as still getting physical books to people through our home and mobile libraries.

“We want this to be a well informed strategy, we want to ensure the work that we do is sincere and meets the needs of the local population.

“Priority in the immediate term is going to be the reopening of services, certainly with the Government roadmap we know that we can start to reopen our buildings from the middle of April.”

The update was provided at the latest council adult and community based services committee meeting, where councillors heard a robust consultation will take place over the summer, to be brought back in the autumn.

Three community hubs, North, Central and South, were launched in 2017 in their respective areas of the borough, and in 2019 the Centre for Independent Living in Burbank Street began operating as Community Hub Coastal.

Cllr Carl Richardson said it was a positive to see more people accessing e-books during the pandemic, but stressed the importance of libraries remaining open as lockdown measures are eased.

He said: “I don’t want to see, and I will fight against library closures, and that’s what I’m concerned about in the future.”

Ms Ptak reassured there were no plans to close libraries, and the strategy was about learning more about the needs of residents.

She added: “Our intention isn’t to reduce the physical books that people will want to continue to access, that will remain a priority for us.

“However what we want to do is ensure that we understand what peoples’ needs are going to be coming out of the pandemic

“What we are starting to hear is perhaps we do need to move towards a much more blended model of operations for library services, and what we want to try and do is understand what that needs to be.”

Council officers also stressed the importance of the home library service, which offered physical books to the most vulnerable residents in the town during the pandemic.

Praise was also given to online sessions carried out such as ‘sing and sign’ and ‘storytime and rhyme’, along with the summer reading challenge which took place and was completed by 544 children.

Cllr Sue Little, chair of the committee, said: “That to me is reassuring that children still want to engage in the libraires, to bring our youngsters in from a young age to do these storytimes and to learn how to read and how exciting books are.”

Words: Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporter

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