Libraries in Lockdown

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for communities, equalities and public health.

This year has presented many challenges. For our library service, the challenge has been to adapt as government advice changes, and continue to provide a service that has always been about more than just books.

Despite being physically closed for much of this year, the library service moved very swiftly online, resulting in a huge increase in the uptake of e-books and a surge in attendance at online events.

As part of our commitment to the future of libraries, we had already begun the process of modernising our libraries, meaning the team were in a great position to offer people a wide variety of online events and resources to help keep people entertained at home. We launched a children’s story time and online book clubs, alongside virtual quizzes and a virtual Lego club.

However, we recognise that not everyone is able to access online services. The digital divide seemed wider than ever this year, which is why we prioritised the resumption of our call-and-collect service at the  Central Library, as well as a number of local libraries.

Our Stories at Home initiative saw thousands of books gifted to families through food clubs and foodbanks across Bristol, and made available for collection at specific Nursery Schools, Children’s Centres and Primary Schools. For those unable to leave their homes, there were doorstep drops, enabled by our Family Support workers, teachers and the Bristol City Robins Foundation.

This was a collective effort involving our Early Years team, our Children’s Centres, Feeding Bristol and our Learning City team. Huge thanks to Debbie Miles for coordinating and to all those who made this happen, including those organisations that generously donated more than 8,000 books. They included publishers, charities and other organisations such as the Book Trust, Hargreaves Lansdown and Phoenix Comics.

Thanks too to staff in our library services, who have faced considerable uncertainty this year, like so many of us.  Many of the team were redeployed to help in the council’s efforts to respond to the pandemic. They found themselves in teams as varied as parks, bereavement services and business support. We could not have done all that we did this year without them.

Looking to the end of lockdown, we will reopen carefully and review regularly as we return to a tiered system. Whilst we are keen to resume services, we remain mindful of the need to safeguard our staff, as well those residents who use the facilities.

Finally, you may have spotted an exciting new addition to the skyline in Fishponds – a giant owl has perched on Fishponds Library! The owl was created in partnership with Upfest and local Bristol artist Tom Habben, who have brought to life quotes from some of Bristol’s favourite books. I hope you’ll agree it brings a little bit of joy to this difficult year.