Changing role for libraries

Not just about books . . . Balclutha youngsters meet up for Brick Club to further develop healthy play every Wednesday after school at the Balclutha Library. PHOTO: EVELYN THORN

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Libraries throughout the district are undergoing a transformation in the ways they are used.

Balclutha›based Clutha District Council library› service centre manager Debbie Duncan said although statistics for the number of visitors overall during the past year may have dropped, that did not paint the whole picture.

‘‘Within all of our community libraries around the Clutha district, it remains a cyclical period for visitors.

‘‘Every library is different, and every district library has their own personal assets and opportunities for various people,’’ Ms Duncan said.

‘‘Guiding ourselves through Covid›19 means libraries are always expanding knowledge for our communities and creating a one›stop›shop for the people in and out of our district, so it isn’t just the regulars coming in.’’

Ms Duncan’s recent report to the council’s corporate and property committee shows the Balclutha Library had a decrease in visitors of 2376 (46%) this June, the biggest decrease among the district’s five libraries. Overall for the year to date, Balclutha has had a decrease of 20%, although some libraries have shown an increase this year, including Lawrence (29%), and Owaka (28%). ‘‘We’ve definitely seen a decrease in older folk coming in libraries due to Covid›19 social isolation.’’ ‘‘This is why under ordinary circumstances libraries are so special. They can provide a social factor to people’s lives, and they can do so many things that some people are likely unaware of.’’

The number of book issues from Balclutha Library for the year to date also decreased, by 26%; however, eBook and eAudiobook issues across all Clutha libraries increased slightly, by 3%.

Ms Duncan said technology was definitely a factor in the changing use of libraries.

‘‘With libraries, it is so much more than getting a book or two out now. I heard aperson recently make a comment about not needing libraries any longer because everything is online now, but I think that’s a role we’re growing into along with the world.

‘‘For nearly 30 years technology has been in libraries, but only in recent years have we been introduced to connectivity.

‘‘It’s all about welcoming the new core element to libraries

— digital inclusivity — which has grown significantly in recent times.

‘‘Not only can a person get a book out but they can do more. They can register their dog, have documents scanned and printed, use our computers and be assisted with technology, especially recently due to the Spark Store permanently closing down,’’ she said.

Ms Duncan emphasised the importance of libraries as a public touchpoint for the community.

‘‘We’ve got six information services who are all connected. We’re all about the people and being a place for facilitating. We’ve got Lego brick clubs for children, knitting sessions for people, and we’ve always got activities going on,’’ she said.

‘‘Libraries have definitely gone beyond what they used to be, but the key message is that we’ll always be here.’’