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LGA – Library investment key to helping children catch up following pandemic

Investing in libraries is key to driving the national recovery from COVID-19 and enabling children to catch up on lost learning, the Local Government Association said today.

Libraries have a vital role to play in helping to build back the country following the pandemic with many already supporting children to recover from missed classroom time and helping to plug the widening attainment gap.

Providing telephone support to families receiving laptops for home schooling, virtual library services and online reading groups form some of the work libraries have been undertaking.

Many libraries are also supporting plans for an enhanced Summer Reading Challenge which will include a range of free online activities, games and fun videos to supplement children’s reading skills.

With all council-owned library buildings first closing in March 2020 after the introduction of lockdown measures, libraries adapted very quickly to provide services digitally, in particular increasing residents’ access to e-books and audiobooks.

As a result, library services reported a 600 per cent increase in access to e-books and downloads for some libraries in the early months of lockdown, with the trend continuing over the last year. 

Alongside e-lending, many libraries across the country have also continued to provide a wealth of other resources and support for their communities under the #librariesfromhome, a campaign coordinated by Libraries Connected, which represents all public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:

“Libraries can play a key role in our national recovery from COVID-19, supporting local communities, and in particular helping children catch up on lost education, and supporting adults to retrain through jobs and skills advice.

“They are a fantastic resource for local areas which is why they need the necessary investment to remain open and continue the great work they already do in the long-term.

“Our libraries have worked hard to adapt to new ways of providing services throughout the past year and remain one of the few free cultural and educational services available in every part of the country.

“They will also be crucial to our ambitions for addressing imbalances between our towns and cities.”

Examples of where councils and libraries have supported their communities during the pandemic include:

Kingston-Upon Thames libraries have launched their Home Learning Guide to support families through home education which is proving invaluable for parents and giving their kids an educational boost. They have also provided Digital Chatterbox groups for children aged 7-11 to support their reading and learning.

Lambeth libraries are hosting homework clubs, reading groups, club quizzes, Spanish story-times and English Speakers for Other Languages (ESOL) groups to support at-home learning.

Norfolk libraries are offering regular Bounce and Rhyme sessions, story time videos and singing sessions through their dedicated Norfolk Libraries for Families Facebook page. They regularly share content on mental health for children, activities to support verbal and physical development and links to educational online sessions for children. A Census Adviser also supported the community in completing the Census Online. Solihull libraries also received more than 160 enquiries for their Census support service.

Cambridgeshire libraries have created a new Digital Library Service, offering a weekly online timetable of events, featuring Rhymetimes, Storytimes and craft at home sessions, all of which have received more than 300,000 views in total.

Suffolk libraries, created Lifeline to help lonely, vulnerable and isolated library customers. Between March 2020 and July 2020 library staff made over 6,700 welfare calls and the service has since continued, and more than 10,000 calls have been made.