Leeds’ modern libraries march on
If libraries were capable of conscious thought, you would forgive them for being slightly nervous right now.
If you were to take a trip around the various book depositories in Leeds this week you might catch Holbeck library wiping a bead of sweat from its doorframe. A braver figure would be found in Rawdon library, standing tall in the face of adversity, backed by strong community support. Lofthouse library on the other hand, with its gently wheezing bookcases, emits an exasperated sigh.
These libraries are three of 15 in the city put forward for closure because of local authority budget cuts. Leeds has 53 libraries – far more than any other core city in the UK. In the financial year 2009/2010 1.5 million visits were to four of those libraries and 2.8 million visits were made to 13 libraries. An existing mobile library service, named “Libraries Direct” is to be upgraded to serve those who visit libraries which may face closure. Leeds City Council says that the revamp, which they have called “New Chapter”, would save £625,000.
The council executive member for leisure Coun Adam Ogilvie said: “This “New Chapter” proposal offers us the chance to give the people of Leeds a revitalised library service coming direct to users rather than asking them to visit buildings some of which are in very poor condition.
The question of whether or not libraries still have a place in today’s technologically booming society is not a new one. We’ve even arrived at a time where the notion that PCs are spelling the demise of libraries is an outdated one. The meteoric rise in popularity of tablets (like Apple’s iPad) and e-readers (in the vein of Amazon’s Kindle) has heralded the post-PC age, with millions of people foregoing the bulky machines of old in favour of sleek, hand-held devices, capable of storing thousands of novels downloaded in seconds over the internet.
The answer to the question of why libraries remain a necessity may lie in the increasing number of services a well-run, well-populated library can offer – services that still hold real value for many. In north Leeds, Horsforth library is one example that maximises the services available to the public, reaching beyond the traditional route of purely offering books and the occasional DVD.
“The main reason it’s been left open is because it’s been successful,” says Roger Boyde, a spokesman for Leeds City Council. “That and the fact that it only had a major refurbishment a few years ago.” From the outside, the building has an attractive, cobbled outer wall, making it look more like a museum or an art gallery. The bright, airy interior gives it a relaxed atmosphere, with its low bookshelves and dotted-about seating making it accessible and comfortable.
The library offers the basics, including books, talking books, maps, newspapers and DVDs. The library promotes itself as offering “easy to use computers” with remote access services, meaning that you can access any work done on the library computers at home. The library also utilises the latest in technology in the form of two book-scanning machines, named “Bill” and “Ben”. For example, a member could place five books in one of the machines and it would scan all of the books’ codes for a quick and painless borrowing experience.
One visitor, Joan Spencer from Horsforth, said: “I like the library because I take out quite a number of novels at once and find the renewal machines to be very useful when in a hurry. If more libraries had facilities that this one has I think more people would use them. It’s a shame some of them are closing but we’re lucky to have the one we have here.”
There is also plenty for parents who might take their youngsters along. The library has just started to run “Chatterbox” – a children’s reading and quiz group for youngsters aged between seven and 10 on the first Wednesday of each month.
Additional services including jobseekers advice and learning sessions are also available with members of staff. The library is currently seeking volunteers for two or three hours a week to select, deliver and return library books and other loan items, for library members unable to visit.
Chatterbox meetings are on the first Wednesday of each month from 4pm to 5pm. the first meeting is Wednesday 4th. For more information call 0113 2144801.
For more information on volunteering contact co-ordinator Barbara Bailey on 0113 395 2330 or Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org.