Libraries to boost trade with Sunday opening

Britain's libraries look likely to follow the example set by seven-day trading, and begin opening on Sundays.

A trial period of Sunday opening at a library in Woking in Surrey proved to be a huge success, with more than 200 visitors an hour flocking through the doors. Now local authorities and library chiefs are assessing the results of other trial Sunday opening periods in six regions throughout the UK.

According to the Library Association, which represents 25,000 librarians, much of the pressure for libraries to open on the Sabbath came from local shops and businesses.

"The Woking example was interesting because there was pressure from local retailers, who were finding that sales figures were up when the library was open," said a spokeswoman for the Library Association yesterday.

Now all libraries are being encouraged to consider seven-day opening, in a radical attempt to bring them into line with the needs of the future.

"Libraries have suffered from political invisibility, and have not been very good at marketing themselves."But, as this shows, they're now changing that," the spokeswoman said.

Previous research has shown that libraries can provide an important focus for the community, being places in which all sectors of the community feel comfortable.

They are also being seen as an important part of the information "revolution".

She pointed to the example of the computer mogul Bill Gates, owner of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world, who was financing the installation of computers in libraries in the United States in the hope of boosting the availability of information.

A new bid was under way to fund a similar project in the UK. "[Bill Gates] sees them as by far the best place to bridge the gap between the information- rich and the information-poor," she said.

The three-month trial in Woking revealed that the town's library received almost as many visitors on a Sunday as on a weekday, despite being open only from 1.30pm to 5.30pm. The added feeling of "relaxation" on a Sunday was said to be a big factor in users' tendency to browse.

Many first-time users said they were too busy to visit the library during the week, while others were attracted by the free Sunday parking in the town. Survey evidence showed that after a few weeks, a core of regular Sunday users began to develop.

County councillors support the library's desire to open on Sunday every week, but say that there is not enough cash to fund the move without reducing the level of service at other times.

Library chiefs are hoping to pay for the extra hours by seeking sponsorship from the town centre's stores, which will benefit from increased numbers of potential shoppers on Sundays.

It is a move likely to be followed by other libraries around the country. Librarians in the London boroughs of Westminster, Newham, Brent and Barnet, as well as Knowsley in Merseyside, are also experimenting with Sunday opening.

But Mr Shimmon added that because of poor funding it was necessary for library staff to research their optimum hours carefully. He added that, as with other Sunday openings, staff should not be forced to work on Sundays.