Redbridge's libraries bringing communities together
PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 June 2015 | UPDATED: 12:33 23 June 2015
Libraries have suffered in recent years, with funding cuts and even closures. But Redbridge's branches are pulling away from the trend
But recent years have seen a climate in which libraries, the beating heart of the books world, have suffered a worrying decline.
The most recent report by CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) reveals there were 282 million visits to UK branches between March 2013 and March 2014 – 12 per cent less than 2010, when there were 322 million.
This picture is indeed bleak, but Redbridge is bucking the trend.
The same report revealed Redbridge Central Library is the 14th busiest in England, with 634,675 visits during the last recorded year.
Cllr Dev Sharma, Redbridge Council’s cabinet member for civic pride, said: “We are doing very well and are very happy about this.
“The libraries are not simply about dishing out books – they provide us with so many opportunities for human interaction.”
Kipti Nicol, 63, is a firm supporter. She is a member of the Central library’s Hardbackers reading group and a volunteer at events such as the Fabula Festival.
The Newbury Park resident said: “The main reason I live in Redbridge is I think it does really well with its libraries and parks.
“We have got amazing libraries.”
In the year 2014/15, the branches had more than 1.5 million visitors and investment in new technology has helped them to save £2million.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags all the stock, which has made possible the installation of self-service kiosks and enabled staff to use scanners to locate items and manage their inventories.
Ebooks are also available for free through the council’s website.
In January, the new and improved South Woodford Library was unveiled, complete with a gym.
Cllr Sharma said: “I think the general ambience is very important. In the past, libraries could be stuffy places.
“We are looking at a review and South Woodford Library could be an example for the future – to refurbish the libraries and turn them into community hubs.”
Kipti has been a member of her reading group for about six years.
She said: “It is really interesting and enjoyable. It encourages you to read something that perhaps isn’t your choice.
“Libraries are something we have to protect and defend.”
Antonia Barker, from Ilford, is a member of Redbridge Central Library’s Hardbackers group.
She said: “I have lived in Ilford all my life and have used the libraries for a long time.
“I have seen a lot of changes and it is not just about shelves and books now, it is much more than that – it is a meeting place.
“I think Central Library is a friendly and inviting place, having the coffee shop and knowledgeable staff there. I think it is quite important that you can talk to people there.
“For me, the main thing is that the library is accessible, as I have MS and my brother takes me to the book club in my wheelchair.
“I joined probably 18 months ago. It is good to get out and the club is very welcoming.
“It is quite a different experience; sometimes you read something which somebody else has a completely different take on.
“With the people you meet at libraries, you don’t have to know them and they don’t have to know you, but you can talk about the book.
“I also think libraries are really important for children, particularly those who don’t really have access to books.
“I think people can miss community links when they are gone – they take them for granted until they are taken away. Libraries give you a sense of belonging in your environment, which means you look after it and the people in it.”