Meet the Yorkshire volunteers delivering a world of escape through doorstep deliveries of library books

A world of adventure awaits in the joyous escape of a good book or the gripping twists of a well-told tale.

Joe Atkinson Library Assistant at Harrogate Library arranging the large print books. Image by Gary Longbottom.

With libraries closed to customers in the traditional way, an army of volunteers is reaching out across North Yorkshire to ensure services can be accessed from home.

This is a different kind of nourishment, say volunteers, as they carry out doorstep deliveries and porch-side drops.

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“You can escape into a wonderful world with books,” said volunteer Gillian Aitken, who helps with library deliveries in the Yorkshire Dales and in the town of Leyburn.

Gillian Aitken, retired English teacher, now delivering books to the elderly, pictured at Kirkwood Hall in Leyburn. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“You are travelling, in your imagination, and connecting with other people and other ideas.

“The people we deliver to are often isolated by the fact they can’t get out much,” she added. “In this pandemic they have become even more so. It is a lifeline.

“It’s just a wonderful escape, in turning the page to find out what happens next.”

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Jean Morby at Harrogate Library arranging books for the Home Library Service. Image by Gary Longbottom.

There are 42 libraries across North Yorkshire, with some 1,500 people accessing home library services from the county council last year.

Some are isolating, others may be vulnerable. Still more are finding it lonely.

In Selby, a pair of friends who first met at the nursery gates when their children were young are now working together for the community.

Annabel Garnett and Jennifer Leitch volunteer for the market town’s home library service.

Annabel Garnett and Jennifer Leitch who have struck up a friendship with 90-year-old Albert Hamer as they deliver his books.

“For the people who use the service, we are on their calendar and they look forward to us arriving,” said Ms Leitch.

The ladies make fortnightly deliveries to people like Albert Hamer, aged in his 90s, who would otherwise struggle to get fresh books to read.

They are “little gems” he said, “the pair of them”.

“When the ladies come, they give a little kick, a little boost, because nobody else comes,” said Mr Hamer.

Annabel Garnett and Jennifer Leitch who have struck up a friendship with 90-year-old Albert Hamer as they deliver his books.

World of opportunity

Miss Aitken, a retired English teacher, was recently charged with finding a selection of titles for an elderly woman in West Burton, in the remotest dales.

A volunteer in the village will deliver, and while in the past they might have stayed for a cup of tea and a chat it will now be socially distanced book drop.

In Leyburn, meanwhile, she supports a voracious reader who will run through 10 books every fortnight, reading from the moment she wakes every day.

The connection comes in opening a world of opportunity, said Miss Aitken, who relishes the “detective work” in discerning what titles may suit.

“We all love a good book, a good page turner,” she said. “It’s a lovely contact, even if we’re just delivering to a porch. Just being able to talk about books connects you with another person. It resonates. These things are so much more important at the moment.”

Gillian Aitken, retired English teacher, now delivering books to the elderly, pictured at Kirkwood Hall in Leyburn. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Laura Dinning, outreach librarian for Leyburn and the Dales, said the home library service is greatly valued.

“There are some customers who just want books,” she said. “Then there are people who are perhaps a bit lonely or socially isolated, and who have a rapport with volunteers.

“While we can’t do that at the moment, it is combating isolation. It’s the human side of it. It really does have a positive impact.”

Libraries boom

A surge in electronic book borrowing was reported by the British Library in the first three weeks of lockdown last year - with well over three times as many people seeking services.

The national library, in its report of the most borrowed books to June 2019, found that Yorkshire’s favourite author was Lee Child, with James Patterson, David Walliams and Gail Honeyman all within the top 10.

The list of most borrowed print titles nationwide is dominated by thrillers, with James Patterson taking the title of most borrowed author for the 13th year running.

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