PUBLIC libraries in Northumberland appear to be bucking a national trend of decline, with book lovers giving a vote of confidence to an action plan aimed at improving the service.
Two years ago, a review by consultants found that county council budget cuts had resulted in a library network which wasn’t meeting the needs of local people.
Shared Intelligence – which was commissioned by the council and Museums, Libraries and Archives North East – said it was clear from users and staff, and examination of the figures, that the service had been “neglected for far too long”.
It recommended an action plan to give libraries a sustainable future in the face of continuing financial pressures on the council’s budget.
Now a new customer satisfaction survey has revealed that 98.5% now rate their local library as good or very good, compared to 85% in 2009.
Almost 98% of customers now feel the choice of books is good or very good – up from 69% three years ago – and opinion about the attractiveness of libraries has increased significantly, from 45% in 2009 to 93.6% now.
More than 3,820 customers from 34 libraries responded to December’s survey, which was carried out by the council as part of the latest review of its ongoing improvement action plan. Investment in better choice and improved facilities has resulted in more people visiting both static and mobile libraries, and the launch of a dedicated library website in 2011 has seen membership go up by 9,000.
A report to county councillors by libraries service manager Judith Walker says: “The national trend in recent years has been steadily decreasing book issues and use of libraries.
“At the present time, there is evidence that Northumberland’s performance is beginning to buck the trend. Footfall and membership is up.”
Her report to this week’s scrutiny committee highlights a number of areas where improvements and changes are resulting in higher customer satisfaction. These include:
A reorganised mobile library service and improved home deliveries for housebound people have resulted in 99% of users saying their service is good or very good.
De-centralisation of book selection, with responsibility handed to local librarians and staff who respond to customer needs and consult people on what they want to read.
Scrapping fees charged for ordering books has resulted in reservations increasing from 27,054 in April to December 2011 to 40,333 in the same period last year.
All computers in libraries have been replaced, which together with improved network connectivity, means customers have better access to the internet.
Continuing investment in buildings which combine a library with other front line council services, including facilities in Seaton Delaval, Prudhoe, Amble, Cramlington and Morpeth.
December’s survey showed 94.4% of respondents thought that library opening hours were good or very good.
The highest levels of satisfaction were in Wooler and Prudhoe where opening times changed following service integration.