How do we keep all 99 libraries across the 12 districts of Kent relevant to the people they serve? All the numbers are going south and it seems that few if any ideas are being put forward to save them. How long before it will be a case of going, going…?
Each of the 99 libraries in Kent give meaning to the area they service beyond measurable economic benefit/value and any closures would provoke feelings of communal redundancy. To close libraries would be an affront to civic pride. A place without a library is less of a place, just as a high street without a post office is a lesser high street and a town without its own hospital is less of a town.
Since 2014/15 Kent Libraries have saved just over £1 million pound and KCC are looking to save a further million pounds in the budget for 2019/20; which will be set in the next couple of months.
Since 2011/12, the number of visitors to all Kent libraries has been falling year on year. In 2011/12 the number of visits stood at 6,873,288 and in 2014/15 it had fallen to 5,579,190. In 2017/18 the numbers had dropped by over 1.8 million from the 11/12 numbers.
So in the modern world how do we make libraries relevant to all ages and increase visitor numbers? How do we keep them places of free speech, controversy and community?
A suggestion might be we make our libraries places which accept books in any form and from anyone who wishes to drop one off at the library—children submit tales told in crayon about their toys; teenagers tell tales of angst and old people drop by with their memoirs, for example. It is not a new idea.
Across Kent in 2014/15, 4.075 million items were borrowed from across all 99 libraries. In 2017/18 that number has dropped by over half a million items according to KCC’s published data.
In 2014/15 the number of hours of computer use stood at 576,000 hours, or 66 years worth of use in one year by all users. However, in 2017/18 the number of computer hours has dropped by over a 100,000 hours, or rather it has fallen from 66 years to 53 years worth of use in 2017/18 accroding to KCC’s data.
And library costs in each district in Kent (not including Medway) have fallen, except in Dover; which have risen by £70,000 between 2014/15 and 2017/18 .
But libraries are more than just about borrowing books, or using computers. They offer baby rhyme time events which in 2016/17 there were 3,265 and 3,966 talk time events.
Our Libraries are places people marry. In 2017/18, 3,734 took place in KCC approved registry offices in Kent & Bexley. They are places to register births and deaths and in 2017/18 alone 34,604 of them. Places where people gain British citizenships and one hundred cermonies took place in 2017/18 alone.
They are places where we store our heritage. KCC’s oldest document they hold in their archives dates back to 699A.D., which for those of you who know your history means Bede the Veneralble, the Father of English History was hard at work in Northumbria. And the Archive Centre at Kent History & Library Centre contains over 8.5 miles of shelving of historic archive documents, which isabout the distance between Canterbury and Herne Bay; which would take approx 2 hours and 40 minutes to walk.
So we hope you can now understand that each and every library across our wonderful districts give meaning to the area they service beyond measurable economic benefit/value and any loss of opening times and/or closures would provoke feelings of communal deprivation . Libraries are places in which all of us have and can develop a real love of books and can access information, but they should also remain at the very hearts of our communities. They are exciting places in which each of us can encounter music, drama, sculpture, or any kind of art; somewhere that sparks an interest that might just become a real passion.
We ask that you take the time to fill in the questionnaire regarding the ongoing consultation which closes at midnight on the 29th Jan 2019. After all, the truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. We should, if we value these things begin to use our libraries once again, if not it will be a case of going, going, gone.
The Shepwayvox Team – Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful