It’s Grim Up North

Research commissioned by the BBC has found that towns in the north of England are the least able to weather economic shocks such as public sector cuts.

Among the worst to suffer is Doncaster, which “suffers from having a very low proportion of businesses in high-growth sectors, such as high-tech manufacturing or the knowledge-based industries. It ranks 310th out of 314 on that measure.” Furthermore, Doncaster is “among the 50 worst areas in terms of the number of people claiming benefits. House prices in those three towns are all in the lowest 10% in England.”

This comes as no surprise. It has already been widely reported that Doncaster is a town in trouble. It has also been widely reported that during times of economic hardship, libraries serve their communities as sanctuaries. For example, Torfaen County Borough has reported an increase in library visits as the recession hits. Indeed, in a recession we need our libraries more than ever. Christine Rooney-Browne, who is working on a PhD about measuring the impact of library services at the University of Strathclyde, wrote this article (subscription needed) about the role that libraries play during times of recession. Using evidence from the USA (because little has been gathered in the UK) she demonstrates a connection between library use and economic situations:

In summer 2008 the ALA began collating data and evidence to help highlight the role that public libraries were playing in the economic downturn (ALA, 2008a). Even in the early days, before the recession had become official, the ALA was reporting an increase in usage in libraries across the USA In their annual State of America’s Libraries Report, it was revealed that American citizens had visited their libraries nearly 1.3 billion times and borrowed in excess of two billion items (over the twelve month period of the study). Other revelations included a 10 percent increase in visits and borrowing compared to the statistics collected during the economic downturn in 2001 (ALA, 2002, 2007, 2008).

During times of recession, more people are unemployed and have less access to information. Importantly, public libraries “promote an ethos of borrowing over buying” (Rooney-Browne, 2009). Public libraries provide free access to information, as well as leisure and culture that fewer people are able to afford, such as books (fiction and non-fiction), films and music (including sheet music which is increasingly hard for local music groups to get hold of without great expense). Fewer people are able to afford things like taking their children on day-trips or activities that cost money – libraries are a free source of education and leisure for children and their parents or carers. Many have risen to the challenge of increased need for library services by offering events such as CV writing workshops and resources (opens as pdf), financial guidance classes from the Financial Services Authority and business advice sessions from Business Link. Libraries are also sources of information about the local council and community, and can help to put people in touch with organisations that may be able to help them, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Doncaster is going to be hit very hard by the coming cuts. Its libraries must be protected from these cuts in order to support the many citizens who will need them more than ever. The role of libraries in a recession and the ways in which Doncaster Libraries and Information Services can help must be promoted by Doncaster council.

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