A REOPENING of libraries across North Yorkshire has been welcomed.

Premises had been shut for much of the past year ­– and even when they were able to open between lockdown periods, only limited services could be offered.

But figures from the county council reveal that in the first week of reopening, from April 12, libraries welcomed 5,125 people – who borrowed almost 21,000 books.

South Craven Community Library in Cross Hills reopened with a select and collect service that week.

County Councillor Greg White, executive member for libraries, said: “It has been wonderful to hear feedback from people saying how lovely it is to be able to return to their library. This confirms our belief about how important libraries are to so many of the county’s residents.”

Libraries general manager Chrys Mellor said that despite the challenges of the last 12 months, staff and volunteers had worked hard to “engage and support” their communities throughout the pandemic.

She said that during the period, libraries had hosted more than 800 events, activities and story times online. And the home library service had continued to support more than 1,200 people.

The service had invested in its online provision – from e-books and e-audio books to newspapers and magazines, research and reference material and educational resources.

Since April last year, 311,000 digital books have been borrowed.

“We have seen an increase of almost 90 per cent in digital loans – and this is from a starting position of having some of the highest digital usage in the country,” added Chrys.

“Because of the rural nature of North Yorkshire, we have always invested in digital services to be more accessible to more people.”

She said physical stock had not been neglected, with around 44,000 hardbacks added to library shelves for returning customers to enjoy.

The service has attracted 8,665 new members since April last year and despite being open for only about five of the past 12 months, with limited access, has welcomed more than 276,500 visitors who together borrowed 559,000 books.

The select and collect service, introduced in the past year, has proved popular.

It enables people to contact their library to request the type of books they want, then collect a selection – chosen by a member of staff or volunteer – from the library entrance. Up to 10,000 books a week have been borrowed through the method and the service is still available.

A survey of select and collect users revealed that 93 per cent felt it had helped them cope with lockdown, 95 per cent said it helped to improve their sense of wellbeing and 92 per cent said it helped them feel less isolated.

County Cllr White said: “This response helps to make all the hard work by our staff and volunteers over the past year worthwhile.

“Research has shown that use of public libraries is associated with higher personal wellbeing. Select and collect, as well as offering a practical solution during lockdown, is the latest of the library service’s ongoing work to support wellbeing.”

So-called Reading Well titles, endorsed by health professionals, are offered in all the county’s libraries to “help people to help themselves”. Ninety per cent of Reading Well users say it helps them to better understand their health needs.

The service also works with partners to deliver activities designed to enrich the lives of children and adults and support creative industries, as well as provide access to national initiatives such as Children’s Mental Health Week.

For more about South Craven Community Library, visit sccls.org.uk.