As part of our response to the South Gloucestershire Library Consultation we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council to get access to the previous 12 months’ worth of book borrowing data, in order to perform our own analysis and see whether we could see any trends that might help to inform the conversation. From this information we were able to generate maps of how the libraries in South Gloucershire are used that allowed us to visually display the impact of the proposed cuts to the library service.
This information that we requested contained one record for every time a book was borrowed:
- the library
- the date and time
- the postcode associated with the card that borrowed the book
This information was deliberately selected to avoid identifying any individual users. We were well aware that the numbers only showed a percentage of actual library usage, as they only focused on book borrowing as opposed to the various activities, internet use and outreach activities that our libraries provide. What we were interested in however, was general trends, and felt that the borrowing data would provide us with an adequate “proxy” value for usage.
We cross-referenced this information against a publicly available web service to obtain GPS coordinates, as well as the associated parishes, wards, and constituencies.
What we found was that libraries are an extremely local service. On average 50% of the users of any individual library traveled no more than 2.4km or 1.5 miles. Beyond this, library usage thins out considerably. This applied regardless of whether or not there were alternatives available. This makes intuitive sense – the further people have to travel to use a service, the less likely they are to use it.
Where there were no libraries in the immediate area, the mobile library filled the gaps. This facility services rural areas as well as a small minority of postcodes within reach of another library – we can only guess that the people who used a mobile library in preference did so because of reduced mobility.
We were then able to turn the data on its head in order to work out how individual areas were affected. As applies to Hanham Library, we found that both Hanham Parish, and Hanham Abbots Parish would be massively affected – with 94% and 86% of library users in those areas respectively using Hanham Library, and being outside of the 50% distance to the next-closest “safe library”, Kingswood. We presented this information to both Parish councils at their meetings last week, and were told that both would be rejecting the options as proposed, and working as interested parties with South Gloucestershire council to work out a 4th option that would ensure a conituity of the service at a decent level.
In terms of areas most affected, we found the following parishes made up the top 20 that would be most disadvantaged by the proposed changes as presented by the 3 options presented in the consultation document:
|Mangotsfield Rural||Emersons Green||73.5|
|Downend and Bromley Heath||Downend||65.8|
|Dyrham and Hinton||Emersons Green||42.4|
|Pilning and Severn Beach||Mobile||36.3|
This makes intuitive sense when you look at the mapping of the plans. The areas in South Gloucestershire that stand to lose out the most lie within the ring road (A4174), or are rural areas.
The full set of maps are available on this site by going to the top-level menu, and selecting Library Usage. Maps are accessible via the drop-down for all of the libraries in South Gloucestershire.
We will be continuing our analysis of the data to determine trends in usage over time for all libraries, in the hope that we can show ebbs and flows for each library over the course of the year, and for each week. Our initial impressions are that this might be a promising way forward, and hope to feed this into the next phase of the consultation.