This blog was contributed by Alan Wylie on behalf of Voices for the Library
In rural areas, the local library, along with the village hall, pub and shop, is the focal point of community life. It’s a safe, trusted place for meeting friends and neighbours, a place for learning, information and leisure and sometimes just a place to keep warm.
If a community is unfortunate enough not to have a static library, then mobile/housebound services fill the gap, helping those that are most isolated.
Let’s look at the data:
- 23% of the rural population are over retirement age, compared to 18% in urban areas, and that proportion is expected to rise
- In 2010/11, 13% of pensioners in rural areas were living in households with income below the poverty threshold after housing costs
In Lincolnshire there are plans to cut 32 rural libraries and slash the mobile service, and there are similar plans in Herefordshire. The Daily Telegraph wrote about the impact of the cuts to mobile libraries on rural communities last year.
In the past 2-3 years, around 3,000 library staff have been made redundant and 300-600 libraries have been closed or taken out of public control.
So why are libraries so important to the rural elderly and why must we protect and improve them?
1. They’re accessible
The obvious advantage of having a local library is that it is local. Accessibility is crucial if you have mobility problems and/or haven’t got the money for bus fare.
2. They help to bridge the digital divide
Elderly people in rural areas face significant challenges when it comes to IT access, including infrastructure problems and set-up costs. The vast majority of public libraries offer free IT access and basic IT training to the public.
3. They help to combat social isolation
Libraries are social places where people can chat, read and keep in touch with the outside world. For elderly people who can’t access a static library, mobile and housebound services can fill the gap. Sometimes a friendly smile from a library worker can make all the difference to an isolated and vulnerable persons day or week.
So overall, the message is a positive one. Public libraries can help to improve the quality of life of the rural elderly, therefore it’s vitally important that we protect and improve them for future generations.
Age UK has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities faced by older people living in rural communities in England. Find out more about our campaign