Awen Cultural Trust, the registered charity which manages the library service on behalf of Bridgend County Borough Council, has reported a significant increase in new members since abolishing fines for overdue books loans in April 2019, and as a result of coronavirus lockdown measures in April 2020.

Last year, Awen Libraries became the first in Wales to remove all fines for late returned books, in an effort to make the service more accessible and take away the worry or embarrassment about paying financial penalties, encouraging more people to rekindle their relationship with reading and learning.

Awen’s commitment to breaking down barriers to book borrowing are already achieving positive results, with new members rising by over 20% within the first 12 months alone.

Survey results from library members also show that removing the fines has led to an increase in engagement levels and improved customer experience. A focus on events and activities in library spaces has also contributed to better engagement with local communities.

Since libraries were closed across Wales on 22nd March as part of the coronavirus lockdown measures, Awen Libraries has seen yet another spike in new memberships – this time by people registering online. From April to June 2020, there has been an 823% increase in online memberships compared to the same period in 2019.

As a result, downloads of e-books and e-audio books have risen by 90%, showing that it is not just existing library users making the switch to online services during the pandemic, and demonstrates why Awen continues to invest in digital and virtual technologies and expertise.

Richard Hughes, Chief Executive of Awen Cultural Trust, said: “We are committed to making our community library spaces welcoming and accessible for all, and it is evident that removing overdue fines is helping us to achieve that goal. The rise in new members in the first 12 months has shown we are reaching new audiences, and the continued increase and amount of digital engagement since the start of the coronavirus lockdown has also demonstrated a wider appetite for accessing online library services.

“As coronavirus restrictions are cautiously lifted, our libraries have a key role to play in their local communities, whether that is providing a safe space for people to while away some free time, offering access to IT and training on computer literacy, showing parents how to access educational tools for their children, or ensuring we can deliver physical books to those who are unable to leave their home. The task now will be to keep innovating and sustain this interest into the future.”

Cllr Dhanisha Patel, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing and Future Generations, said: “The difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic have emphasised and reinforced the important role that an effective library service plays within the community.

“These latest statistics highlight what an important resource the library service is, and highlights how it can support objectives for community well-being, social inclusion, literacy and more.”