More than 250 people in two days have signed a petition calling on Devon County Council to keep its mobile library service running in Devon, calling it a lifeline for people in rural and isolated communities. One man commented that he lived 14 miles from a library, while others commented on disadvantage and poor public transport links. ‘We should be encouraging people to read books, not memes!’ wrote one person.
Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin set up the petition after Torridge District Council voted unanimously to write to Devon County Council questioning their proposal. The County Council currently has four library vehicles, adapted for people with mobility or hearing problems, that visit 374 locations across Devon every month. In the north of the count, the mobile library which services Torrington serves a vast area from Welcombe to Morthoe, all the way down to Bridgerule, St Giles-on-the-Heath, over to Hatherleigh and North Tawton with a huge number of villages and rural areas in between.
Councillor Cottle-Hunkin says that the County Council is using flawed statistics to justify the closure of the mobile libraries and not taking into proper account the social impact of ending the service, commenting:
‘The statistics used by the council compare 2022 figures with 2012 when there were eight library vehicles, providing a much fuller service. The reduction to four vans in 2013–14 would have cut the number of users. Users of the service in 2022 numbered more than 3,000, despite the negative impact of the Covid pandemic. In addition, the library vehicles were off the road for 670 hours last year, largely because of ‘vehicle issues and maintenance’, making it impossible to provide a reliable service. This would also have reduced user numbers. There has not been sufficient promotion of the service in recent years and a good marketing campaign and reliable service would significantly boost numbers.’
The petition calls on Devon County Council to look at other options to keep the service running at a lower cost to taxpayers, such as leasing library vans instead of buying new ones or seeking grants and sponsorship to fund the service.
Councillor Chris Wheatley, who has worked with Cheryl in setting up the petition, said:
‘The mobile libraries are a lifeline to many people in our rural communities. Many people living in Devon are not within walking distance and have non-existent or very limited public transport links to a library. The mobile service allows many people in isolated areas the ability and independence to use the library service and meet with others in their communities. Older people and those with mobility problems rely on these services and they are also the people who are least likely to have access to the internet to buy or download books. As well as supporting the elderly and the vulnerable in our communities, they are also a fantastic way to enthuse our youngest members of the community to get into reading, and the toddlers and young children in the villages love visiting the mobile library to pick their new books and take part in reading challenges!’
Devon County Council has not yet replied to Torridge District Council’s letter asking for more detail on what would replace the mobile library and how these vulnerable and isolated groups would be supported.
Please go to https://www.change.org/SaveOurMobileLibrary to sign Councillor Cottle-Hunkin’s petition.