What’s the buzz at Eynsham Library?
When was the last time you visited your local library? Perhaps you’d like to make it a regular activity but work commitments mean you just can’t get there when it's open. Well, if you’re lucky enough to live in Eynsham, you can.
That’s because an exciting ‘out-of-hours’ service being trialled at the village library means members can visit the building until 11.30pm, seven days a week, extending access to books, online services and study space.
Council staff and councillors joined local library users to see the new service in action and try out the 'self access' key pad and card-scanning technology at the entrance.
What's the verdict?
“There’s a book club in here tonight, which is a good example of the sort of thing that could be possible with the extension of opening hours”, says Mary Fletcher, a founding member of the original Friends of Eynsham Library.
Indeed there is. A group of around six local book enthusiasts are chatting eagerly away in the corner - taking advantage of this newly available community space to hold their regular evening meeting.
Mary says: “It’s open at a time when people are not working and I think that is the key thing. There are so many people who work during the day who just can’t get to the library, and with the extra hours at the weekend I think a lot of young families will bring their young children too.”
Her friend and fellow founder member of the Friends group, Jane Thompson agrees. “I think people will definitely use it more as soon as they realise it’s available to them. People want to be able to come when it’s convenient to them.”
Council Leader Ian Hudspeth tries out the new 'out-of-hours' access sytem
Trial taking off at new-look library
It’s just a few weeks since the new access system was installed both here, and at Summertown library – the other site taking part in the trial. All library members have to do is speak to a local member of staff who can provide them with a personal access code registered to their membership card. New members have also signed up specifically to take advantage of the new service.
As a further incentive to visitors at Eynsham, the library has also reopened with improved shelving, soft seating, carpeting, lighting upgrades and a new staff counter. It’s all designed to give a light and open feel to encourage greater use by the community.
“It just feels fresher and lighter now, and is very welcoming, says Mary. “Before it looked a bit like an old fire station – which, of course, is what it was. The staff are always really friendly and the new design has also enabled the library to have extra stock. I’ve seen a few new titles and authors I’d like to read already.”
Your friendly staff at Eysham Library
Coming in for the "quiet space"
Staff are monitoring visitor numbers, and there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence about patterns of use from visitors during ‘normal’ opening hours, who of course, are also now making ‘out-of-hours’ visits.
“The feeling is that people are definitely coming in for the quiet space when it’s a bit less busy, and to use the computers”, says manager Katherine Mercieca. “In some cases library members are bringing their young children with them and staying to read for half-an hour or 45 minutes, which is great.
"There’s no doubt this has the potential to make the library a real focal point for the community – a place where people can come to access council services online and take advantage of the community space, as well as borrow and return books.”
The system is also being trialled at Summertown Library, and if successful, will be rolled out to other libraries across the county, making them available to thousands of people who cannot currently visit during normal working hours.
It means giving Oxfordshire residents unprecedented access to library and wider council services, and cementing libraries’ position at the heart of the communities they serve. More opportunities, for instance, for groups like tonight’s book club here in Eynsham.
The council’s Cabinet Member for Cultural Services Lorraine Lindsay-Gale is among those trying their access code at the entrance for the first time tonight. She says: “This is hugely exciting and has the potential to be a real ‘game-changer’ in terms of opening up access to local libraries and encouraging more people through the doors. It’s as easy as swiping your card at the entrance to your bank after it has closed to use the cash machines.”
“Eynsham library is very well supported at the heart of a thriving community, where we believe there is great potential for this to be a success. We’re really keen to see how people take to the idea so we can assess the scope for rolling it out more widely across the county. That’s ultimately what we would like to do.”