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​New publication shines a light on how Suffolk Libraries supports positive wellbeing across the county

Libraries keep people happy, healthy and together. A new report reflects on Suffolk’s libraries growing importance to the community and especially their key role in supporting and improving people’s wellbeing. Their impact continues to grow significantly especially in a world that continues to adapt to a new normal.

The new ‘Creating positive wellbeing & making lives better’ document is now available to download.

It builds on last year’s Impact Report by national accountancy practice Moore Kingston Smith. This report used in-depth research to show the vital and previously unseen contribution Suffolk’s libraries make to people’s lives across the county, saving individuals, local government and the NHS millions of pounds every year.

Since this report was published and despite library buildings having to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, figures for 2019/20 show Suffolk Libraries having an even bigger impact on communities before lockdown. Attendances at library activities were up by nearly 2% compared with 2018/19. This included all three groups which last year’s Impact Report focused on - with more people coming to libraries to enjoy activities for children, older people and sessions aimed at improving people’s mental health and wellbeing. Over the past five years attendances have increased by more than 20% to well over 200,000 per year.

The growing popularity of activities shows how libraries have adapted to meet the needs of local communities. Suffolk Libraries also saw a corresponding increase in the number of wellbeing enquiries and Books on Prescription loans showing that libraries also act as a point of referral to other support.

During lockdown Suffolk Libraries saw a huge surge in interest in its eLibrary services with physical books temporarily unavailable. Figures for 2019/20 showed that there had already been an increase before COVID-19. The total number of library items borrowed, downloaded or streamed rose to 3.4 million in 19/20, an increase of over 8%. This positive trajectory far outweighs the national trend of fewer physical books being borrowed.

Although library buildings had to close for over 100 days during lockdown, Suffolk Libraries and its staff quickly adapted and found ways to reach out to people. Library staff embraced social media, live streaming online activities which have been enjoyed tens of thousands of times. Every day during lockdown there was an average of more than 2,000 engagements with Suffolk Libraries online activities.

Well aware that older customers would be more likely to be isolated and find it more difficult to engage online, Suffolk Libraries set up a new Lifeline service where staff made regular calls to older customers to ensure they were ok and had someone to talk to. This led to some really heart-warming stories including Ipswich Library staff recording their own audiobook of an out of print novel for a 102-year-old customer. To date staff have made nearly 8,000 calls.

With libraries reopening and traditional services gradually being reintroduced across the county, Suffolk Libraries will continue to adapt and evolve to support the needs of the community.

Bruce Leeke, Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, said:

“The role of libraries has fundamentally shifted over recent years. They now play a fundamental role in supporting positive wellbeing and as a result help to build resilient communities. It is a challenging time but I’ve been incredibly proud of how our organisation and team have adapted but there’s still plenty more we can do for the people of Suffolk. The potential for libraries to impact people’s lives is borne out by the report both by statistics and customer testimonials. In many ways people are beginning to realise that what we offer is so much more than the traditional image of libraries as we have found new ways to reach out to improve the lives of customers. I think it’s important for library services everywhere that we reflect on what we contribute, the many ways we can help people and especially the key role we play in supporting positive wellbeing.”

Suffolk Libraries in figures

In 2019/20 14,576 library events and activities were enjoyed by 204,424 attendees.

In 2019/20 attendances at events and activities supporting mental health and wellbeing rose from 9,271 to 10,447.

To date Suffolk Libraries staff have made nearly 8,000 Lifeline calls to older and isolated customers.

The overall number of items borrowed, downloaded or streamed rose to 3.4 million in 19/20 an increase of nearly 8.4%. This was thanks to an increase in take up of eLibrary services including a 9% increase in eBook lending. This pattern was reflective of the whole year not just lockdown; from March to August there was another big increase in the number of people accessing eLibrary services.