What Harlow people really want from their libraries

By Emma Batrick

What Harlow people really want from their libraries

MORE books and a wider range of book stock, more events for young people, increased promotion and extended opening hours have been revealed as the main ways residents would increase library usage in Harlow.

These comments were collected by Harlow SOLE (Save Our Libraries Essex) which has been campaigning to raise awareness of Essex County Council’s proposals for the future of library services, and to talk to residents to find out what they want from their libraries. Over a series of six events near all of Harlow’s libraries and at the town park, Harlow residents were asked to share what they liked about libraries and what would make them visit more often.

Many comments relate to Essex County Council’s statutory duties for library services, with people of all ages mentioning the lack of book stock and lack of variety, and stating that libraries would be better used if they were promoted more.

Just one comment was received regarding a desire for more digital or ebooks.

“I like the library because you can get books and enjoy them. I am 10 years old. I would like a book club because it’s fun. And if it was open more. I have even made a library at home.” Harlow resident, Harlow town park, 6 July 2019.

Ideas to increase usage include putting on more events for young people between Baby and Toddler Rhyme Time and adult Reading Group age, for example having regular Saturday or after school reading groups featuring books from authors such as David Walliams. Many comments also stated that if libraries were open more, they would be used more.

People also recommended adapting the space to make it more comfortable, by including bean bags and reading corners, or in the case of the town centre library, making it more welcoming. Only 4% of the comments related to the availability of refreshments.

“Our libraries give a lot of people an advantage they might not have had. Keep open, keep funded!” Harlow resident, outside Harlow Town Centre Library, 19 May 2019.
Childhood literacy, social inequality and isolation are key concerns, as well as the impact that library closures could have on local communities within Harlow, with many people stating that they would not be able to visit another if their branch library closed.

Many comments celebrated librarians and expressed concerns that professional staff would be replaced by volunteers.

Emma Batrick, Harlow SOLE comments: “What we have found from each of the events we have held is that there is a real sense of love for our libraries and librarians, and anger that they are under threat. Harlow often doesn’t feel heard at county level and we would like to thank every Harlow resident who has taken the time to share their views with us, been in photos to sho
w support, signed petitions, and put up posters. All of the comments have now been passed to Harlow’s four Essex County Councillors and we hope that they are used to inform the next steps of our libraries’ futures.

“As we heard on Monday, Councillor Finch has stated that no libraries in Essex will close, which is potentially good news for Tye Green and Mark Hall, which were under direct threat of immediate closure. However, we await details on how these libraries will remain open, as we are yet to hear assurances that they will keep their buildings, professional staff, books and computers. The same concerns are still there for Great Parndon Library, which is also under threat of being community run, which is, effectively, a closure.

“We will keep working until we know these damaging plans for volunteer or community run services are off the table, and we hope the people of Harlow and Essex will carry on with their support and continue to help us campaign to retain our library services.”

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