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Home library service provides a lifeline for isolated readers

todayMarch 11, 2021 4

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North Yorkshire’s long-running Home Library Service is an integral part of the county’s social support system and during the coronavirus lockdown, it has provided a lifeline for more residents.

The service was established to allow those unable to visit libraries to both keep reading through regular book deliveries to their homes, with the added bonus of social contact with the network of volunteers who make the deliveries and collections.

While social distancing rules mean the drop-offs and collections currently have to be done with great care, they can still provide a valuable point of contact for people isolated in their homes due to a combination of lockdown and their own circumstances, in addition to providing the stimulation which reading provides.

Around 1,400 people across North Yorkshire currently benefit from the service and the current lockdown means more find it is a way of helping to cope with the restrictions needed to beat coronavirus.

They rely on a team of hundreds of volunteers who operate the service, with different people taking on different roles to cope with the challenges of covering a county unique for its combination of size and remote communities.

The service operates in both urban and rural areas, with around 30 library branches involved. In towns, the services are centralised for convenience, but in rural communities they operate from local branches, with regular drop-offs and collections.

Last year’s restrictions around the pandemic saw increased demand for the service and since the country has been back in full lockdown more people have come forward to take advantage.

The scale of the operation is reflected in the fact that in the last two months of last year 7,628 books and audio books were delivered to more than 900 people.

Annually, a team of around 250 volunteers put in around 14,500 hours of work, making around 11,500 visits.

North Yorkshire County Council provides the books for the service and pays the volunteers’ costs for delivering and collecting books.

The county’s library network relies heavily on its own band of volunteers and they also contribute to ensuring the system works smoothly and effectively.

Jennifer delivers books to Albert Hamer

County Council general manager for libraries, Chrys Mellor, said: “It tends to be seen as a service for the elderly, but it is there for anyone who can’t get out.” That means some children’s book deliveries have been made alongside those for adults, where parents have been isolating or unable to leave their homes for other reasons.

For many, the deliveries provided a form of “unobtrusive contact”, Chrys said, with volunteers normally stopping to chat, though that element of the service was restricted to distanced drop-offs and collections while lockdown remained in place.

Volunteers also distribute leaflets on behalf of organisations like the fire and health services.

“We are reliant and grateful that we have such an army of volunteers out there,” she said.

The positive impact of the service can be seen in the responses from those who benefit.

During the first lockdown, home deliveries had to be suspended and 4,500 telephone calls were made by users just wanting someone to chat to in the absence of personal calls.

One user said:  “They’re the only people I see most of the time since I can’t leave home. I buzz for a week after they come.

“I can’t praise the library enough, out of all the services that were meant to help me they’re the only ones that have actually delivered. It’s not just the books, it’s the consistency and familiarity – they ground me. I lose track of time being on my own without stimulation for so long, but then Thursday comes and I’ll be back to myself, it sets me straight for another fortnight.

“It’s so important that they’re familiar faces, they will tell me a little about their lives and ask about me, ask how my son is doing, I value that so much. It’s not old age that makes your brain go, it’s the isolation – and everyone is always in a hurry, the whole world is in a rush – it’s so nice for someone to make time for you.”

Cllr Greg White, the County Council’s Executive Member for Libraries, said: “The Home Library Service is a proven success, providing a vital service for those who would otherwise struggle to use libraries.

“It would not be possible to operate this without our team of dedicated volunteers, who provide more than just a delivery service. The current pandemic has shown just how important communities are and this is a fine example of people working for the benefit of others who would be even more severely impacted without their help.”

Friends join forces for book delivery

North Yorkshire’s Home Library Service has helped a friendship of four decades endure, with two friends who met at the nursery gates now working together for the good of the community.

Long-standing friends Annabel Garnett and Jennifer Leitch (right) get ready to deliver books as volunteers for the home library service in Selby.

Annabel Garnett and Jennifer Leitch struck up a long-term friendship when both had young children and that has seen them each take on a volunteering role with the service, which operates out of Selby library as part of its county-wide coverage.

Annabel’s love of reading took her into the branch and she took up an invitation to get involved, with Jennifer taking a role later.

Although each worked different routes initially, changes in staffing meant they ended up working together, making fortnightly deliveries to people like Albert Hamer, aged 90, who would otherwise struggle to get fresh books to read.

He said: “When the ladies come, they give a little kick, a little boost, because nobody else comes. They are little gems, the pair of them.”

Both women enjoy helping others and recognise the value the service brings to those who use it – as well as the satisfaction they gain from volunteering.

Annabel said: “I was still working part-time when I started, I borrowed books and was asked if I was interested when I was in the library. It has been brilliant, we get attached to the people involved,” she said.

Jennifer added: “We enjoy it and get a lot out of it. For the people who use the service, we are on their calendar and they look forwards to us arriving.”

Although current coronavirus restrictions mean more social distancing, in usual circumstances the visits involve time for a chat to provide some much appreciated social interaction for those who may face long periods of isolation even in normal times.

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