Yesterday Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods, and I took a report on libraries to the Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee.
The report describes how the library service continues to have had a positive impact on people’s lives over the last couple of years – in fact more so than ever during the pandemic – and lays out how we continue to do so in the future.
The report also announces some important news. Manchester City Council has taken the decision to abolish fines for overdue items. This will be introduced on 1 April 2022, and will mean that all adults will no longer need to pay fines if they return their books later than the due date – this is already the case for children and over 60s. The fear of fines is one of the reason why people choose not to join or use the library, particularly amongst those who would struggle most to pay the fines. By reducing this barrier we are tackling inequalities through making the service as attractive and welcoming as possible. Libraries are free to join, and now without the fear of fines for late returned books. Fines have been abolished in some of our neighbouring authorities in recent years.
Other highlights of the report include:
- The Council continues to invest in our libraries, and following recent improvements at Withington, Forum, Avenue, Central and Hulme High Street, there are significant improvement / transformations in the next few years at Chorlton, Didsbury, Gorton, Abraham Moss and Central.
- Libraries continue to be the beating heart of communities, being used by the communities they reside in. They are well used venues key to successful and cohesive local communities. As community hubs they are used to gain access to skills, creative opportunities, digital access and access to a wide range of services at neighbourhood level. Libraries are increasing becoming community hubs used to meet a whole range of priorities of people in the neighbourhood. Examples of how each of our 22 libraries enrich their local residents and communities are included in the report.
- In the latest Public Library User Survey conducted in 2019, customers had an overall satisfaction rating of 91%. 81% of those respondents who said they were sometimes lonely, said visiting the library helped to reduce these feelings of loneliness.
- In a survey held at Central Library during the pandemic, 87% of people said they felt happier after using the library.
- The role of libraries in supporting people to become confident online users has increased greatly since the start of the pandemic. 20% of library visits were to access the Internet in the first 12 months of the pandemic. Libraries now offer support with the Internet in people’s homes – both donating nearly 1000 Internet devices to digitally excluded residents and offering telephone support to help improve their confidence and skills
- Libraries provide more advanced digital support and support to business start-ups at Central Library’s Business and IP Centre, and the Greater Manchester Build a Business project
- During the pandemic nearly 100,000 books and magazines have been donated to children and families across the city. Also, each Year 7 pupil have received a free book when entering high school as part of the Transition Read.
- More pupils received class visits sessions in 2021 than they did pre-pandemic – mostly through the use of virtual sessions with authors.
- Libraries in partnership with Age Friendly Manchester have agreed and adopted a set of Age Friendly standards, and during the pandemic had a specific age friendly hour to help encourage older people back into the library
- Libraries continued to have a full cultural and creative programme with a blended offer of activities and events online and in person within libraries.
- Manchester Central Library is the Northern Hub for the 1921 Census being one of only 3 places in the country that offers free access to the census. This is proving extremely popular and is a recognition of the quality of the Archives offer in Central Library which is the most visited public library in the country.
The report shows the wide range of services to people of all ages and all backgrounds and demonstrates successfully how libraries uniquely support residents and communities with their lives.
Neil MacInnes OBE
Head of Libraries, Galleries & Culture