Behavioural changes during the two years of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions mean visitor numbers to Swindon’s libraries have not bounced back to their level before 2020.

And Swindon Borough Council is changing the way it does things to encourage more people to use their libraries.

The authority’s cabinet member for educations and skills, which includes libraries, Oladapo Ibitoye was with Sally Burnett - the head of the council’s skills and education partnerships - to present a report on the five libraries run from Euclid Street.

In the year ending in March 2020 there were more than half a million personal visits to the five libraries, which lent 532,000 items and there were 16,758 e-loans, of things like digital audio books, e-books and e-magazines.

This far in 2022-23, which still has more than a month to run, personal visits have numbered 188,000. That's well under half the pre-pandemic total, with 224,000 items being borrowed. In the meantime e-loans have multiplied six-fold to 93,471 this year.

Coun Ibitoye said: “In those two years more people started engaging with online services and they haven’t come back to the libraries in person- but they have been taking  e-books and magazines and audio books in much greater numbers.”

One way the council might see increasing visitor numbers is through its face-to-face customer service functions being conducted at libraries rather than at Wat Tyler House.

Intended as a measure to make it easier for people who can’t or don’t access services or information online, by not requiring them to travel to the town centre, the devolution od services was agreed in December and started in January.

Ms Burnett’s report said: “The service delivery started on January 3 and therefore had only been running for two weeks at the time of writing this report. In week one there were a total of 40 enquiries and in week two, a total of 37.

“The majority of enquiries were in relation to blue badges, bus passes, council tax and housing benefit.”

Ms Burnett added: “The libraries are offering access to computers and easy to use touch screens so that residents can apply for services online, sign posting for queries and booked appointment where residents need additional support to complete an application.

“Library and information assistants are trained to provide information and signposting and deliver activities to support digital inclusion.”

The council runs the Central Library and branches at Highworth, North Swindon, Parks and West Swindon.