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Library usage figures questioned

11:20 27 June 2014

Budleigh Salterton Library.

Budleigh Salterton Library.

Archant

The fate of Budleigh Salterton Library could be decided by figures which make it appear far less popular than it really is, it has been claimed.

Devon County Council is currently consulting on the future of its libraries, with Budleigh’s needing to have more community involvement, or the service risks ending.

As part of the consultation, the council has said that the library’s number of active borrowers is only 13 per cent of its catchment area, ranking it a lowly 20th among Devon’s libraries.

However, this is based on a figure of 2,400 borrowers, which means the catchment area population being used for the council’s data works out at more than 18,000.

For comparison, the combined population of Budleigh, East Budleigh, Bicton, Otterton and Colaton Raleigh is estimated by the council at 7,738.

The council also gives the catchment area for Sidmouth Library – in a town nearly three times the size of Budleigh – as 13,782 – meaning that although that library has less than 4,000 active borrowers, it is ranked 8th by the council – and is in line for a major ‘Devon Centre’ upgrade.

The catchment areas are calculated by the postcodes of people who use the libraries, but there is a fear that this may mean Budleigh Salterton Library’s popularity with people from other towns, who prefer the service it offers, is counting against it, as the population from those towns, which have their own libraries, is then added to its catchment.

Budleigh resident Helen Tickle, who has written to the Journal this week highlighting the issue, said: “I think Budleigh Salterton Library is being penalised for being an attractive and popular library.

“I think that a review of the catchment area data needs to be carried out before it is relied on to be the basis for the decision-making about the future of the library.”

Town mayor Caz Sismore-Hunt said: “I don’t think using those figures is fair. It’s great we get people in from Exmouth and Sidmouth, but it is a small library for Budleigh, East Budleigh, Otterton and Colaton Raleigh, and really they should look at it on the people we serve.”

In response, a Devon County Council spokesman said: “For the purpose of the review we have used the same model to work out the catchment population for all our libraries, which is based on the home addresses for all the people who borrowed items from Budleigh’s library, in this case, during 2012/13. That includes the population from the eastern side of Exmouth, which is densely populated.

“However, the active borrowers figure is just one of the many considerations that the council has made in drawing up the proposals on which it’s consulting until mid-July.

“In addition to the size of the catchment population and active usage, other important considerations include the distance from other libraries; their potential for the co-location of other service into those libraries; and their place in helping to meet the needs of the local community, such as unemployment, disability, age, and public transport access.”

The consultation will run until July 17.

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