Essex library campaigners urge increase in book stock

SAVE OUR LIBRARIES ESSEX (SOLE) is demanding that a good stock of printed books are available in library services. SOLE believes these are essential for a library service, and that the inevitable increase in digital use during lockdown, because digital was all that was available, can’t be used by Essex County Council as an excuse to continue to neglect book stocks.

In normal times, printed books are by far the most popular option. In 2018–2019 only 2% of Essex Libraries loans were eBooks. So SOLE says even the 22% increase in digital borrowing reported by ECC would still mean that only a very small percentage of loans are eBooks.

During the pandemic, evidence emerged that the digital divide was more obvious than ever. It has been suggested that limiting book access and even halting children’s learning because of a lack of computers and home WiFi. ECC had cut library stock by over 470,000 books over the last 10 years. SOLE is demanding that this must be reversed – ‘now more than ever, as Essex residents come out of lockdown, starved of reading matter’.

SOLE asked library members how they coped without printed library books during lockdown. Some of those without access to Wifi or screens indeed suffered from having little or nothing to read. Some who had digital access said they could not use eBooks, citing health concerns such as eye strain and neuralgia. Emma Coates said: “I’m worried about the hours my son has to spend on screen as it is, especially since lockdown has meant online schoolwork. I really want him to have access to real books again.”

Users were also disappointed at the limited range of eBooks available through the digital app Borrowbox, “I have been using Borrowbox but unfortunately choice is extremely limited.” said Jean Quinn. “Though convenient, the choice is limited and the experience is not the same” said Bryan Crunden.

Liz Miles, children’s author and literacy expert said: “I’m very concerned that the Summer Reading Challenge is being promoted by ECC as online-only this year. All children should be able to access printed books from their local libraries, even if it has to be via a phone order and outside collection service. A summer without reading could very seriously affect children’s learning and literacy skills, especially those who lost schooling during lockdown.”

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