Nottinghamshire fell short of library visiting targets but pandemic recovery ‘won’t happen overnight’

Concerns have been raised about the numbers of people visiting Nottinghamshire libraries falling short of expectations as pandemic restrictions ease.
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Nottinghamshire Council papers show the authority’s library network missed one target by almost 300,000 visits – but the council’s communities committee chairman said recovery ‘won’t happen overnight’.

From October to December 2021, there were 283,682 visits to county libraries, against a target of 575,000.

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Now, new targets have been set for April to December 2022 to include website visits and home delivery, as this ‘better reflects the performance of the service and how users engage with it after the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions and wider cultural shifts in user habits’.

Mansfield Library, on West Gate, Mansfield town centre.Mansfield Library, on West Gate, Mansfield town centre.
Mansfield Library, on West Gate, Mansfield town centre.

It follows a pledge by Coun John Cottee, on behalf of the Conservative administration, that library provision would be maintained across the county by the time the next elections arrive in May 2025.

However, he said some of the 60 sites may move to new locations or ‘co-locate’ as the authority looks to cut costs on some expensive, old buildings.

Council documents stated: “As to be expected physical visits are still down, which reflects limited customer confidence in utilising public spaces and the slow return to town centres, while virtual interactions continue to be high.

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“Evidence from across the country suggests library services in many areas are not yet fully open, whereas in Nottinghamshire all sites are now open in a Covid-secure way and largely at pre-pandemic opening hours.”

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Coun Daniel Williamson, member for Kirkby South, told the latest committee meeting: “I am worried our physical visits are only about half of the target we set.”

Coun Tom Smith, meeting chairman and member for Blidworth, said: “In terms of visits, the reason they are down is because of Covid.

“If people are told for two years to stay at home, culturally it is hard to breach that and for people to feel safe to go back into the norms.

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Libraries are doing well in getting people back out there, but it won’t happen overnight.”

Peter Gaw, of Inspire, the independent charity responsible for managing the service, said: “There’s an improvement in physical visits, at the same time the use of our virtual services has carried on at a high level.

“Overall engagement is encouraging. That recovery rate we’re confident will carry on through this year.”

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