LIBRARIES across Dorset have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, figures have revealed - and a public consultation has now been launched to shape how services will be delivered in the future.

Library users and non-users in Dorset are being asked to share their views in a survey which will run for 11 weeks and will close on Friday, January 7, 2022.

It comes after figures showed the number of visitors to Dorset Council libraries during 2020/21 went down by 93 per cent from the previous year - with 1,216,132 visitors recorded in 2019/20 falling to just 83,078 the following year. This was due to significant periods during the Covid-19 pandemic when the council's library buildings were closed, followed by phased re-opening of libraries, with only limited services available.

However, there was a significant increase in the use of online library services in Dorset, inlcuding a 325 per cent increase in the number of digital resources such as e-books, audiobooks, e-magazines, and e-comics issued.

Libraries in Dorset also delivered some of their activities and events online for the first time - with content which has been viewed over 110,00 times.

The survey responses will be brought together with evidence around local needs and responses from the council's partners. The council said that it will then produce a draft library strategy which will be the focus of a second consultation, to be held in summer 2022.

The council's current library strategy is 11 years old. Over those 11 years, the council said that there have been significant changes in public behaviour and digital technology, and the impacts of the Covid pandemic have been felt. This consultation seeks to look to the future of Dorset’s libraries to best meet the needs of local residents and communities, now and over the next ten years.

Cllr Laura Miller, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Customer and Community Services, said: “This is an exciting time: we are calling on all residents to help us shape the future of Dorset’s library service. Since the previous library review in 2010, we’ve seen big changes in both public behaviour and digital technology, and it is now time to look to the future of our libraries.

“This initial consultation period will be a conversation with our communities, employees, and partners, to better understand what they need from the service, now and in the future.

“So, whether you are an active library user, if you have visited our libraries in the past, or if you have not visited one of our libraries before – we want to hear from you. Your views will help us to provide a modern relevant and sustainable service, and I encourage everyone to have their say.”

In addition to the council's main survey, there is a dedicated children’s survey for ages 5-15 years.

Those who complete the survey will be given the option to be entered into a prize draw to win one of two prizes, either a Kindle Paperwhite (8GB) or an Amazon Echo Dot, for the main survey. Children who complete the survey could win a £25 Amazon Voucher (three vouchers will be awarded).

To find the surveys visit: Support is also available via customer services where an officer can help to fill in the survey over the phone by calling 01305 221 000. Those who need paper copies of the survey can access these by visiting their local library.