Welcome in!

A hearty welcome to the inside!
Yes, so far, we’ve only been able to meet and greet visitors in the lobby area, but now – the whole library space is open to all. This also means of course that browsing is back: instead of us going to the shelves and getting books for you, you can now wander round and look at everything we’ve got.
Naturally, there are still precautions to be respected, but it does honestly feel great to be able to demonstrate a proper welcome-in once again.

Phased openings

This new development means we are back to where we were library-wise – but gatherings (the likes of clubs, meetings etc) and public events are still not permitted, so we’ve a way to go before it is a full community centre once more.
When we get to that point, that will definitely be a good day.

However, all the initiatives we’ve come up over the last month will still remain in place.
So … if you are uncomfortable about coming into the space, we’ll still do Click And Collect (just contact us and we’ll pick out the books you want for you) and Grab And Go Bags (just tell us what sort of books you like to read and we’ll make up a selection).
Our Phone-Buddies system (give us a call if you are feeling isolated and want to talk over anything) will be running for the duration.
Computers are available for use – but must be pre-booked.
And services like photocopying and laminating carry on as usual.

Precautions

We are all getting used to the precautions, but they are still important. As much as protecting ourselves, the rules protect the wonderful volunteers who run the daily business of the centre. They must be protected.Wear a mask noticeSo….
# Masks please! (Or suitable face-covering). If you are exempt, do not enter the library, but wait in the lobby to talk to a volunteer and explain your exemption.
# We operate ‘track and trace’, so you will be required to give your name & contact details. The information will be destroyed after 21 days.
# Sanitising of hands as you enter the library is paramount. It means that if you touch a book, you won’t leave anything on it.
(Thus, any returned books must now be left in the box provided in the entrance, and not brought to the desk)
# You can now borrow 8 items at any one time. Please ensure you bring your library card!

One little word of warning. Con-artists, claiming to be contact-tracers, are already at work, making random calls to people. If you are contacted, remember to really check the credentials of the person who’s calling.Warning against fake tracersFor a full and detailed run-down of how Staffordshire Libraries are dealing with the current Covid issues, please click on this link.

Blythe Bridge Library is currently open Tuesdays and Fridays 9.30am-2.30pm.
For more information please call the library on 01782 485269.

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We’re back!

Do you remember March 23rd? That’s when all Staffordshire’s library centres had to close as part of the government’s strategy to combat coronavirus. It seems an era ago.
Re-opening all those libraries has been a slow process, with the large ‘directly-managed’ libraries, such as Leek, only reopening in late July.

Our team here at Blythe have been on the task-force organising the return of the smaller ‘community-managed’ libraries, and the CMLs have been gradually doing just that.
And now, as of September 8th, 170 days on from closing, we ourselves are finally re-opening!
It will only be for two days a week and for just five hours each day (Tuesdays & Fridays, 9.30am-2.30pm), but it’s a start.

For the next couple of weeks, we can offer: ‘click/phone order and collect‘ (where you order books over the internet or phone and then come pick them up); computer time (must be pre-booked); printing/photocopying.
Sadly though, no group activities for now.
Please keep watching our Facebook page to check on exactly what services we will be able to offer and when.

One thing we should mention is that our Phone Buddies service is still operating – as Covid is not going away soon – and we still have many referrals.
Additionally, for those staying at home and struggling with computers, we still offer a Computer Buddy service – but this has be done ‘virtually’. Just get in touch.

As you can guess, a lot of what we can do will depend on how many volunteers come forward. If you can help, even if it’s only behind the scenes, please get in touch.volunteer in librariesAnd, if you do come see us, as we hope you do – please remember to bring your mask…

The novels that made a difference

Lots has been happening online over the last months of course, and one of the most interesting online events was the vote for Staffordshire readers’ choice of the ‘Novel That Shaped My World’.

The eventual top five was a very diverse selection including: To Kill A Mockingbird, the anti-racism novel; 1984, the vision of a horrifying totalitarian world; and The Earthsea Trilogy, the magical fantasy with a spiritual twist. However, the most popular were Pride & Prejudice, a gentle satire on society, and, number one, The Lord Of The Rings, the powerful story of good & evil.
Novels have the power to influence us in how we live our lives, and these were fascinating choices.

A silver (white) lining

Curiously, with the centre and the next-door school being closed, the car park outside the centre was empty nearly all the time.Newly painted car park (2020)So, the authorities took the chance to repaint the white parking lines. And they look pretty good, and now very clear!

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Summer’s challenge

Welcome to our June bulletin.
Even though the library centre itself is still closed, the team is very active; and in this update, there is news of a reading challenge for children, a commitment to home delivery services and a further extension for the Ancestry offer.

However, first, the question a lot of you are asking: when will Blythe Centre re-open? The likelihood is that community-managed libraries like Blythe will get the green light in four to five weeks’ time.  But… all will depend on how best we can protect our volunteers and visitors, so there’s a lot to sort out first. We will let you know how things are looking as time goes by.

In the meantime, the team here presses on. Our support work has been particularly valued; and we’ve been fielding a lot of questions on the hot-line number. One particular field of work has been helping people understand and use the Zoom video-calling programme, and that has been very satisfying as it has brought people together.

Books to your doorstep

It’s clear though that some elderly people, especially those who are shielding, will not feel comfortable in public spaces for some months to come. One reassuring thing for them though is that we, and the whole county library service, are making a direct commitment to deliver books, safely, to your home if you don’t want to come into the library. You need never be short of reading matter!
Just contact us, and we’ll make arrangements.

In order to get those books delivered, we need more volunteers. Can you help for an hour every so often? Please contact us to say if you can help.

The Summer Reading Challenge is back!

Due to the coronavius, the annual reading challenge for children will be conducted online this year. The idea of the scheme, for those who’ve never tried it, is to keep children reading over the summer.Staffs Libraries 2020 Silly SquadThe theme this year is ‘The Silly Squad’.

The process is very easy. First, children (with help from parents/guardians) should enroll at our website, www.sillysquad.org.uk, and create a profile.
Children should then set their own challenge, e.g. the amount of books or comics they will read; and then, each time they finish one, they add it to their online profile with a short review.

The bonus is that there are downloadable activities, games and puzzles, all being added to the website all over this summer.

Research at home

One thing that people in lockdown have really appreciated is the access to the Ancestry website. Ancestry.com holds hundreds of historical documents and is used by people researching their family tree as well as other history.Logo of ancestry library edtionNormally you would have to pay to access Ancestry.com, but during this crisis, a special temporary arrangement had been negotiated, so that any Staffordshire Libraries member could use the site for free through their own home computer.
That arrangement was due to finish at the end of this month, but here’s the good news – the arrangement has been extended… until the end of July.

This is great news for people restricted to the house as, for many of them, Ancestry has become quite the hobby!
To access the site, you need first to visit the Staffs Library User Pages, then log in to your account with your card number and PIN.  Make sure you are in the ‘Account’ section and then scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the link where it says ‘Access Ancestry Online’. Have fun.
Any problems – just give us a call.

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Books & bunting 4 U

Welcome to the book (and crafts) stall!

Library book stallIf you’ve been passing the library recently, you may have noticed the shelving outside (see pic right). On it you’ll see stacks of books, from classics to children’s books to romances (something for everybody) and they are all there for you to browse, and take away.
All we ask in return is a ‘virtual’ donation. Please do not leave cash.

You’ll also find little plastic bags attached to the stall. These are craft packs containing everything you would need for a garden party, from bunting to cut-outs. The children (or you) will have to colour them in first, but that’s half the fun!Bunting craft packsIf you’re planning a stay-at-home celebration to remember VE Day on May 8th, these craft packs have all you need to decorate your property.
Please be aware that the stall is on site Monday-Friday 10am-3pm weather permitting, but not bank-holidays (such as May 8th).

Protect yourself

In these strange times though, we’ve gone the extra mile to make sure you can protect yourself against the coronavirus. We suggest you bring a bag to put the books or packs in, and when you have made your selection and put them in your bag, then use the hand-sanitiser we have provided on the stall to clean your hands.
If you want to be ultra-safe, you can clean down the books and packs when you get home – or leave them in the bag untouched for three days, by which time the virus, if any is there, should have died.

Donate

All we ask in return is a donation, which you can do using your mobile phone. Simply text a message to our donation number, which is 70480.  If you text ‘Books 1’ that donates £1, ‘Books 3’ means £3, etc etc up to £20. It’s up to you how much you donate.

All donations will support our current charity project supporting people in the community. If you feel that you, or someone you know, could benefit from the project, please click here for more details.

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May time opportunities

Wow – it’s May already. Who’d have thought at the beginning of the year we’d be in this situation?
In this bulletin, some news about borrowing e-books, listening to classical music online for free, a month’s free access to ‘Ancestry’, an update on our centre’s community-support line, and an opportunity to turn your hand to paid work caring for our local vulnerable.

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One of the things that we have learnt from this crisis is that the best way to get through it is – adapt to it. And that is true of library use as much as anything else.
Borrow Box promoOur branch may be shut, but book-borrowing has not stopped. Many users have turned instead to the free e-book system – which has seen requests shoot up by over 50%!
Instead of reading a book in hand, we are reading on our tablets (or mobile phones).

If you have not tried our e-book system, it is easy to learn how (honestly). First though, you need your Staffordshire Libraries membership card of course, and you will need your PIN (a four-number code), as well as a tablet or mobile-phone to download your e-books on to.
(Kindle-reader devices do not work with our system though).

And it’s not just books that you can download. Our system also offers magazines, newspapers, and even superhero comics! And if you prefer to listen to books being read to you, it also offers audio books.
Everything is explained on this page – how the county’s e-library works.
And the whole thing is free to library members…
If you are not a Staffordshire Library member, find out how by clicking here.

(Incidentally, it’s worth noting that each county has different rules and slightly different library services, so if you may not be able to access the same services as, say, a friend in another county).

And there’s more!

As a special concession to help us all at this time, the Staffordshire Library Service are now offering an extra service, one that would normally attract costs, for free.
Yes, lovers of classical music will be happy to hear that the full ‘Medici’ music catalogue is now available to us for free: concerts, operas, music documentaries, and master classes, all on-demand. Medici is a programme that specialises in collecting classical music for people to listen to.

Medici Tv promo

Just some of the artists on Medici

To access Medici, click here and follow the link. Remember to have your library card number, and your PIN, to hand when you log in.

And, there’s even more than that – special offer – one month only!

Ancestry on computerThe Staffordshire Libraries service has secured a deal to allow library members free access to the famous ‘Ancestry’ programme from their own home computers.
Usually you can’t get access to Ancestry unless you come into the library and use our library computers, or you pay for it.

Ancestry is quite invaluable to anyone researching their family-tree or trying to find out about individuals from the past – you may have seen it advertised on the TV. For many of our users, it’s an absorbing and eye-opening hobby.
If you’ve never tried it, this really is a great opportunity, and we urge you to give it a go!
Remember, this free home access is only available until the end of May.  (UPDATEDnow extended – until the end of June).

You will need your Library card number and PIN. (If you are not a Staffordshire Library member, find out how by clicking here.)
To access the site you need to log in to your library account here on this page.
You then need to make sure you are in the ‘Account’ section; scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the link where it says ‘Ancestry Access’.

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Support continues
It seems a long time ago now since we closed the branch at Blythe (six weeks now, hard to believe) but the Blythe & Surrounding Districts community-support system we set up then continues to function. Click here for the details of that.

Since then, we have also been installed into the nationwide support system network; and are now a ‘partner agency’ in the effort to ensure safe and responsible co-ordination of help for the vulnerable in our neighbourhoods.
As such we are also being asked to give ideas as to where additional extra support needs to be directed, so if you do have thoughts, do not hesitate to call or email us.

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Could you be a carer?
If you feel that you can put yourself out there to give some home care to the vulnerable, even if you have never done such wok before, the county council would love to hear from you.
The need is urgent – so the county is offering paid-for work to those people who come forward to help. And, don’t worry, you’ll be given full instructions on how you and those you visit can stay safe. For full details, click here.

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Phone Buddies project launched

In this time of crisis, we at a community hub like Blythe Centre cannot just stand by and leave it to the authorities do it on their own.  Yes, the centre itself is shut, but the project and its aims are still in place.
So, from this week, we are running a local ‘Phone Buddies’ system.

We are inviting anyone in the community who feels isolated, or would like to know they have someone to turn to, to join the scheme. The idea is that one of our project volunteers gives you a regular call just to check all is well.

Just phone us on 01782 485269, preferably between 9.30am–2.30pm, for more information and to register yourself. At other times, an answerphone may be on; please leave a message, and we’ll be back to you.
The same number if you want to volunteer to be a buddy.

Don’t worry if you don’t live in Blythe itself, we accepting applications from people for miles around!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What is a phone buddy?

It’s a basic, caring service: it is just one of our ordinary volunteers, who calls up and says: “how’s it going?” A reaching out, if you like.

However…. it is not for professional ‘counselling’ or for health information about the coronavirus, which would not be right.
But – if certain support is requested, e.g. for shopping or for help tracing other relatives, then the volunteers have been asked to refer the question back to the project organisers.

The wonderful thing is that we’ve had a terrific response from our volunteers.  As of today, we could support one hundred members of the community.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.comOur policy 

We know that similar services have already been offered by ad-hoc community groups which have sprung up in a spontaneous way to respond to this crisis.
But, using our experience as part of the Care & Fun registered charity, we’ve taken a tiny bit longer to get started, because experience tell us this kind of thing needs to be done carefully and professionally.

All our volunteers are vetted and instructed; a complaints procedure (let’s hope it’s never needed) is in place; and we have a published policy document.
The policy has been recognised as good practice.
The project is being supported by Staffs County (Public Health and Prevention Department) and Support Staffordshire.
Over time, we may even be able to expand this work, with their help, including using the centre for the most vulnerable to get additional support.

We will get through this, of course we will, but helping each other along the way will make it a lot easier. And we hope this project contributes to that.

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Services continue, despite closure

Hello Everyone,
In this uncertain time, we find ourselves contacting you with news we never thought we would say.
As of Friday 20th March 2020, the Blythe Centre/ Library doors will close and all face-to-face services will cease, for the time being.

However, as of Monday 23rd March 2020, we will be available by phone on 01782 485269 between the hours of 9.30am and 2.30pm or by email on blythebridge.library@staffordshire.gov.uk

Volunteers

As you will not doubt appreciate, the services we have delivered for approximately the last 4 years have been delivered on a daily basis by volunteers.  Many of these volunteers are in the at-risk groups of the COVID-19 causing them serious harm.
As we sail through these unchartered waters we therefore have a duty to protect our most precious assets, “our fabulous volunteers”, as they become members of an unusual isolated world.

As a charity we have strived to promote inclusivity in order to battle isolation, so for us it is an unthinkable state we find ourselves in. Therefore we are not closing the doors and disappearing from the centre, but evolving to give support, using parts or enhancing the infrastructure we have available.

We aim to continue to be able to offer information – by phone and email – and to collate what services are out there, for those members of our community that are self-isolating.
We will also hopefully be bringing some additional services that will be available by phone.
We wish to assure you that you have not lost your centre; and whilst many of our library services will be dormant for a while, a service to our community will still be delivered.

We will endeavour to keep you updates on these services. Plus a collective offer through our partnerships with other groups and agencies soon.

Thank you for continued support and keep safe.

Kind Regards
Helen
On behalf of our volunteers.

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Keeping up with the updates

Everything at the moment is dominated by coronavirus news, isn’t it?
We’ve been following all the advice from the authorities, both from council and our own library bosses, and we are confident we are doing the right thing.  We are currently (as of March 15th) open as normal, but we have put extra measures in place – including hand-sanitiser stations in the main entrance, and hand-sanitiser at the desk.

Hand-sanitisers at Blythe Bridge library entrance

Hand-sanitisers at the library entrance

However, if and when we need to make big changes, we’ll announce it on our Facebook page – so keep checking that site.
It’s a difficult choice between panic and precaution, isn’t it?

What we do know is the library is a vital service, especially as a community information centre.
And, although the virus can live up to three days on plastic surfaces, that doesn’t mean we need to be afraid of books.  The official advice includes – wipe down surfaces, wash hands properly, try not to touch your face.

Isolated

Maybe now is a good time to mention again the Home Reader Service. This is a vital lifeline for many housebound people, or for those who simply find it difficult to carry books home.
Home readerIf people have to turn to self-isolation, books will become even more important for them than they are now.

Not only does it enable these groups of people to continue using getting books from the library, but prevents isolation getting too hard to bear (especially the kind of self-isolation we may soon be seeing a lot of).
However … here at Blythe, we have found it hard to recruit volunteers to do this work. Admittedly, the main problem is that a volunteer would need a ‘business’ car insurance in order to use their own cars to make deliveries (though one lovely lady got round that issue for us by using her bicycle!)

So – if you are fit and healthy and not in the at-risk categories – can you help deliver books to the housebound, even if you have to walk the books round? Email us if you think you can help.

Children are reading less

Yes, the latest statistics from the National Literacy Trust  show that only a quarter (as low as that!) of children under-18 spent some time every day reading for pleasure – the lowest level since surveys began in 2005.
This is a wake-up call. Research shows that children who read for pleasure benefit the most from education.

Reading is a habit, so – if you are a parent or grandparent – why not borrow some books from us to take home to your youngsters?  If you show that you are encouraging them to read, it will help. Our staff will be happy to advise on the right books for the individual that is your child.

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A bit of blarney

In this update, we go a little Irish, say a (temporary?) farewell to Spanish, and see the five-year plan for Staffordshire’s libraries.

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Bit of blarney

We’ll be celebrating St Patrick’s Night in style this year, and tickets are going fast!
On the actual night, of Tuesday March 17th, we’ll be hosting the wonderful and very seasoned Irish-music band ‘Kiss The Blarney’ (see pic below). Kiss The Blarney bandSome of you will already know the guitar-player, John, who is from Forsbrook. We promise jigs a-plenty!

This will be a chance for youngsters to experience Irish music too, as, because there will be no alcohol on the bar on the night, under-18s will be allowed entry. (Don’t worry – other drinks are available!)
Tickets are £10 per person, and are already available on our online sales site.

Adios Sophie

Our Spanish-language teacher Sophie is in great demand. By the second week of her latest course, the session was full and a waiting list had to be established.Hablemos Espanol logoHowever, such is the demand on her skills, local schools also want a piece of her – and she’s having to suspend the sessions at Blythe.
We wish her luck of course; and hope she can come back some day.

The future of the centre

The latest report from Staffordshire County Council about the state of its library service is encouraging reading.
Twenty-seven libraries in the county (including Blythe) have now been converted to ‘Community Managed’, with just sixteen still directly run by the authority.

But the report also says that libraries now depend hugely on volunteers – over one thousand volunteers across the county give the equivalent of £1.4m worth of time!
It means that volunteers are now the backbone of what we do. If you think you can help with a few hours a week, please see our Volunteers Page.

The good news is that the report recommends continued investment in Staffordshire’s libraries up to 2025, as well as continuing to underwrite present arrangements for access to IT, and to book stocks.
One ‘cut’ could have been in cleaning services … meaning us volunteers would have to do maintenance in and around the building as well. However, that proposal was rejected at the latest council meeting.

The report also stresses how central libraries are to the educational health of the population. A staggering figure, of nearly 180,000 people, took part in activities last year in the county promoting reading, including the annual Summer Reading Challenge for children – which Blythe is proud to support..

Lastly, one fascinating idea is the introduction of a ‘self-service’ system at Stafford Library, which means Stafford can be ‘open’ outside core-hours.
One thing is for certain – nothing stays still for long in the world of libraries!

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Looking forward

As we enter the new decade, it’s a good time to look back on what we’ve achieved here at the centre – and also to look forward with optimism to the future.
As you know, Blythe Bridge is a ‘community-managed’ library. In other words, the county council would no longer be keeping it open if The Care & Fun Charity (or another voluntary organisation) had not stepped forward to say it would take on the responsibility of keeping it running.
And, thanks to your support, and to the new volunteers who keep joining us, we have been keeping our heads above water!

We are now into the fourth year of our five-year agreement with the county, which almost makes us one of the veterans in Staffordshire’s roster of community-managed libraries. CML meeting, Jan 2020As a ‘veteran’, we were asked to host a CML Network meeting earlier this month (see pic above) – a nice honour.

Back in 2019

Looking back on last year, it is lovely to report what strides forward we made.

The stats say it all.
There were an astonishing 42,400 visits to the library; there were 525 separate activity-events (including club sessions); and we hosted some 32 one-off special events … all made possible by the endeavours of the volunteers, who clocked up 5,630 hours of selfless effort!
Quite a record for a small library.

To infinity … and beyond…

In a time of change and social issues, such as we are passing through now, we believe that a library centre such as Blythe’s is a place that can act as a force-for-good in the local community.
We would like to see the centre be an even bigger force for good in future so we are not sitting on our achievements but pressing forward…

Thus, the book-stock is constantly changing – and please remember, we are here to help you find the books you need in your life, even if we don’t have them in stock immediately.
Our training courses, supported by Acorn Training, already see a high demand, but we intend to see that even more of them get pre-funding, from various sources. This means that nearly everybody can get a place on them without having to worry about money.
Our various club sessions – from chess to quilting to Warhammer – are now well-established, but, with the help of our volunteers, we will be starting at least two altogether-new clubs.
And there’s always the Unknown. Do you and your friends feel like setting up a book club? Or how about staging some local history talks? Even put on a small play or concert? The possibilities are endless – please come and talk to us, and we’ll guide you through the process.
Plus… would you like to volunteer? There are lots of different tasks, from being on the desk to helping compile the newsletter to general publicity. Whatever your skill, we’ve probably a job for you. See here for what’s involved.

It looks like 2020 will be a good year!

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Courses new for 2020

As we’ve just said, we’re expanding the number and range of courses we’re hosting at the centre.

Here are a few of them starting in the next few weeks…
Our new Code Club is aimed at young people aged 9-13yrs (registration, parental consent signature required) who have an interest in computer animations and gaming. This club will start on Friday 31st January running from 3.30 to 4.30pm, run by Archie (our Tuesday afternoon volunteer). No cost to join, but please book.
Our new Ancestry Group will be run by Kate, our Thursday morning volunteer. If you have an interest in genealogy, this group will be a fabulous benefit to you as you research your family tree. The Ancestry group will meet every Thursday afternoon from 6th February 1.30-2.30pm. No cost to join, but please book.
The “Ready Steady Go– Job Club” supports job hunters at every stage of their journey, from confidence building, application forms, cover letters and CV creation help, to interview techniques and support. The club starts Monday 13th January 1-3pm. Registration required.
All these plus our two popular IT courses ”Get Connected” and “Enhanced IT”, not to mention our revamped “Baby Massage” class. (See our Events page for dates & times)