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Concerns as Nottinghamshire libraries use falls 300,000 visits short of target

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Concerns have been raised about the numbers of people visiting Nottinghamshire libraries falling short of expectations as pandemic restrictions ease.

Nottinghamshire County Council papers show the authority’s library network missed one target by almost 300,000 visits ­— but the chairman of the council’s communities committee said recovery won’t happen overnight.

From October to December 2021, there were 283,682 visits to county libraries against a target of 575,000.

Newark Library. (41841923)
Newark Library. (41841923)

Now, new targets have been set for April to December 2022 to include website visits and home delivery as this “better reflects the performance of the service and how users engage with it following the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions and wider cultural shifts in user habits”.

It follows a pledge by John Cottee on behalf of the Conservative group that library provision would be maintained across the county by the time of the next elections in May 2025.

But he said some of the 60 sites may move to new locations or co-locate as the authority looks to cut costs on some expensive, old buildings.

Council documents stated: “As to be expected physical visits are still down, which reflects limited customer confidence in utilising public spaces and the slow return to town centres and the high street, whist virtual interactions continue to be very high.

“Evidence from across the country suggests that library services in many areas are not yet fully open, whereas in Nottinghamshire all sites are now open in a covid secure way and largely at pre-pandemic opening hours.”

Daniel Williamson (Ashfield Ind) said at Wednesday's meeting: “I am still worried that our physical visits are only about half of the target that we set.”

Tom Smith (Con), committee chairman, responded: “In terms of library visits, the reason they are down is purely because of covid.

“If people are told for two years to stay at home, culturally it is quite hard to breach that and for people to feel safe to go back into the norms.

“I think the library services are doing very well in getting people back out there but it won’t happen overnight.”

Peter Gaw, of Inspire, the independent charity responsible for managing the service, said: “There’s an improvement in physical visits, at the same time the use of our virtual services has carried on at a high level.

“The overall engagement is really encouraging. That recovery rate we’re confident will carry on through this calendar year.”

Glynn Gilfoyle (Lab) said: “That’s something this council chamber has shared, that we want to keep libraries open.”

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