In autumn 2016 we undertook an important piece of research for Wirral Council focused on their library service.

You can download our published report here on Wirral Council’s website.

The council had asked us to carry out an independent needs assessment to help them decide how to allocate a reduced library service budget in a way which would best meet needs. We defined ‘meeting needs’ as meaning:

  • Alignment of the service with socioeconomic need
  • Alignment between the library service and the ‘20 pledges’ in the Wirral Plan

In terms of socioeconomic need we began by looking at the familiar ‘heat-maps’ of socioeconomic need based on data from the Index of Multiple Deprivation (or ‘IMD’).  We did this at Lower Super Output Area level in order to see the exact location of social need in far more detail than simply using ward-level averages. We also looked at different aspects of need e.g. child poverty, low skills, or older people.

Then we compared the geographic concentrations of need, with geographic concentrations of library users. This was done by mapping the postcodes of active library users to the same geographic level – Lower Super Output Level – to highlight which areas have the highest and lowest concentrations of library users. What this enabled us to do was identify the extent of the library service’s reach into the most needy areas of their borough – and also to find out whether there are parts of the borough where socioeconomic need is high, but where relatively few residents are library users.

The map below on the left shows active borrowers (darker means more borrowers), and the map on the right shows socioeconomic need (darker means higher levels of need).


We conducted similar mapping for users of specific services such as library PCs or participants in the Summer Reading Challenge.

We also used our data-store of library statistics to create national comparisons with Wirral such as this one below:

Wirral Image 3.png

Lastly, we undertook a different kind of ‘mapping’. This was not geographic mapping, but mapping or matching the different elements of a library service’s offer to the host local authority’s strategic priorities.

In the case of Wirral this showed that there were seven of the council’s twenty-one priorities to which the library service contributed most. We worked with the council to analyse and map library services against these priorities. This type of analysis enables library services to build relationships with those council services they have most in common with rather than being viewed by other services as a Jack of all trades with no specific allies.

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