From realms of fantasy to political intrigue, libraries are places where people of all ages can immerse themselves in fiction and non-fiction alike. Sadly, ever-tightening local government budgets have necessitated changing levels of provision for many of our beloved local public services.
For some libraries this means reduced opening hours or even forced closures when the cost of provision cannot be eased by voluntary support. A recent BBC investigation revealed that 45 libraries in Wales have closed since 2010, while one in 10 is now run by local volunteers.
So how do we differentiate between communities which are more likely, or better able, to engage in active citizenship and those which are not? What indicators, if any, could help inform policymakers of the potential resilience of communities to the loss of publicly provided services?
Our research seeks to address such questions through the use of advanced Geographical Information System (GIS) techniques, which enable the analysis and mapping of geographical data, to provide policymakers with insights regarding potential spatial implications of changes to current (and projected) levels of public service provision in Wales.
We are currently examining whether more socially cohesive communities are better able to encourage active citizenship, such as local voluntary work or attending public meetings, in order to prevent service loss or reduction.
To find out, we are creating local measures of social capital (a recognised measure of social connectedness) for Wales using administrative and social survey data, which will be examined in relation to spatial variations in library provision (and other services reliant on voluntary support).
Two potential measures currently being explored relate to numbers of registered blood and organ donors (under the previous ‘opt-in’ system of consent) at Welsh community level, as potential indicators of altruistic and civic behaviours.
To our knowledge, no studies to date have attempted to generate small area measures of social capital for Wales using both administrative and social survey data, or have attempted to examine such measures in relation to levels of service accessibility using advanced spatial methods.
Given recent policy initiatives in Wales, our work is increasingly timely. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act calls for ‘a Wales of cohesive communities’ and an examination of spatial patterns in local levels of social capital could prove a useful starting point to estimating current levels of community cohesion.
As for now, I had better get back to work, as I have a mountain of papers to read. Luckily for me I know the perfect place to catch up on my reading in peace and quiet, for now at least.