Byline: By Paul Rowland Western Mail
The campaign to rekindle Wales' love affair with libraries kicks off today. More people use libraries in Wales than the rest of Britain, but numbers are declining. And their reputation for being archaic, dusty and uninviting is part of the reason. The scheme comes amid a decline in the numbers of people regularly using libraries, as multi- media advances take their toll on demand for their services. Visitor numbers have halved over the past two decades, with the figures for the number of books issued showing an even greater drop.
The latest campaign aims to reverse that trend by raising awareness of the facilities available at most local libraries.
The Assembly Government has also pledged to provide an extra pounds 2.5m next year towards improving the Welsh library network, after it was revealed last year that none of the local authorities in Wales were meeting the standards for library services set in 2002.
Last year's figures showed an improvement in the number of authorities spending target levels on books and other materials, but revealed 13 out of 22 still weren't reaching expected standards.
It is now hoped that a campaign will raise the profile of library services, alongside a campaign to improve standards inside Wales' ageing library buildings.
The initiative will focus on the evolution of public libraries in Wales, with the intention of shedding their image as shabby old buildings and emphasise the investment in new technology and the multimedia facilities on offer.
Recent figures have also shown major improvements in visitor numbers in libraries that have benefited from refurbishments.
An pounds 80,000 investment in refurbishing Oystermouth Library in 2005 resulted in a 31% increase in visits in the first year, alongside a 38% rise in requests, and book issues going up by 24%.
Children's book issues increased by 42% in the same period, and books issued to children under five increased by 102%.
The campaign will also see:
A nationwide marketing campaign aimed at changing the traditional image of libraries as quiet, dusty places which only stock historical romances;
Further investment in computer technology for Welsh libraries, particularly to improve online access to libraries;
Greater emphasis on co-operation between public and educational bodies to widen access to library resources;
More attention given to ensuring library staff have the appropriate skills to help users.
The scheme is being launched today at the Whiterose Information Resource Centre in New Tredegar, in Caerphilly, where research suggests 63% of the population regularly use a public library - one of the highest figures in Wales.
The Assembly Government- funded scheme will then tour libraries around Wales to encourage more use among a generation with a stronger affinity to games …