Last year, in a bid to save money, Cheshire East Council was forced to reduce its fleet of three mobile libraries to one. Barry Hook spent a day on-board and finds that it is nowhere near the end of the story.
Jon Threadgold, Christine Walker and Pat Whiston spend their working weeks touring the rural areas ofEast Cheshire spreading the word. They are the crew members of the authority’s one remaining mobile library.
Christine and Pat share the job of library assistant. Jon is the full-time driver – amongst other things.
In between helping borrowers on and off the vehicle, operating the lift for those who cannot manage the stairs and helping borrowers pick their next selection of books, Jon is the one responsible for keeping this library on wheels in good order and on schedule.
All three are avid readers. They need to be.
“Can you find me a mixture of horror stories and a couple of the latest political biographies?” asks a regular borrower as she steps on board and hands over the six books she is returning from the library’s previous visit.
“I want three westerns and three historical romances,” says another regular.
Seemingly, without having to think, John flits around the shelves picking the requested titles and placing the returned books to the correct places on the shelves. Meanwhile, Christine or Pat are busy at the computer logging-in the returns and recording the new borrowings.
The next request is not so easy.
“About two months ago I had a romance by an author with a funny name. Can you find me some more by the same author?”
Without having to resort to the computer – the computer provides a complete list of each client’s borrowing history – John comes-up with a name.
“Was it Santa Montefiore?”
It turns out to be correct and with no more customers, John drives off to the next stop.
We have been on board since 8.45am when the mobile library left its base in Alsager for its first stop of the day at Lower Withington. Then it was Siddington followed by Snelson.
Now we are heading for Chelford, the last stop before lunch.
Joyce German is our first customer. “I like history and family sagas but nothing sloppy,” she tells me.
Another borrower arrives who prefers to select her own titles. That releases Jon to help other borrowers.
“It is a lovely job and our borrowers are all such nice people,” says Jon a qualified solicitor. When the solicitor’s practice for which he worked went out of business, he joined the mobile service as a part-time driver. “I enjoyed the job so much I decided to go full-time.” That was 15-years ago.
“Our borrowers range from pre-school readers to seniors and include working mums to retired couples and we cater for all ages and tastes,” says Christine, “including large print.
“We carry a stock of about 2,000 books which is constantly being refreshed and we have thousands of titles out on loan. We offer all the services of a main library. If a borrower wants a title which is not in the mobile stock, we will order it and have it on board for the client on our next visit.”
Another reader arrives with her 20 books. “Because the library only comes round every three weeks, I need to borrow sufficient to keep me going,” she tells me. “I read at least half a book a day; sometimes the whole book if it is a good one.”
And it is not just books which customers bring on board. “We have several lovely couples who always bring us a piece of cake, a mince pie or a hot cross bun,” says Pat. “It is amazing how much the mobile library is appreciated.”
Chelford resident, Peter Kitching arrives with a bag full of returns. “These are all for my wife,” he says and then continues to keep us entertained on a variety of topics about Chelford’s history and its local characters.
“The mobile library is a lifeline to a lot of elderly people who can’t get out to a main library,” he maintains. “It’s a necessary service. Older people rely on it.”
Cheshire East Council hopes that by cutting the mobile libraries it can save £95,000 a year, claiming that cuts to services are necessary because of lack of money.
The one remaining mobile library no longer makes stops at any location which is within two miles of a library. Before the cut, the authority’s three mobile libraries made about 254 stops on a fortnightly cycle. That has been reduced to around200 stops on a 3-weekly cycle.
By now it was lunch time – taken at our next stop at Marthall Village Hall. Then it was a short drive to Great Warford and our final stop of the day at Ollerton before heading back to base.
Once there, a new stock of books has to be loaded and any maintenance to the vehicle carried out.
Tomorrow is another day, starting in Plumley and finishing in Goostrey, delivering one good turn after another.
- You can find a complete schedule of the mobile library’s routes and dates on the cheshireeast.gov.uk website.