THE number of people visiting libraries in East Lothian has risen by nearly 20 per cent over the last decade.

A report on library services in the growing county revealed that while the number of visits had dipped since 2013, it maintained a steady figure over the last three years, with 581,689 visits over the last financial year.

And this was 18.4 per cent up on 2009, when just over 491,000 visits were recorded.

The local authority has 11 library branches across the county, with its six town libraries reporting the most visits.

The only significant drop in visits was in Wallyford, where the public library closed in November to be replaced by a joint community/pupil library which opened in the new Wallyford Primary School campus in April.

A report to the council’s policy and performance review committee said that the move had seen the number of visits to that library service almost halved.

And it added: “Although we have improved facilities within the school, there is no public transport to the school and limited car parking so some of our elderly customers are not now using the library.”

However, the report said there were hopes that when the new housing had been completed at Wallyford, where large development is ongoing, public transport would improve.

The council put the increase on physical visits to library branches down to a combination of factors, including “increasing opening hours, merging library and customer services, increasing digital use and different types of events taking place within libraries”.

It said that the number of e-magazines and e-newspapers issued through the library service rose dramatically in the last year by 68 per cent to 44,398.

And it revealed a recent survey had found that one in five people visiting branches did so to use the computers, with 17 per cent accessing wi-fi.

Councillor Jim Goodfellow, East Lothian Council’s cabinet spokesperson for community wellbeing, said: “The library service in East Lothian has adapted well to the changing role of libraries in recent years and we have seen the numbers of visits increase by nearly 20 per cent since 2009.

“Despite all the challenges which we face, we have continued to improve the library service which we offer through the opening of the new community library in Wallyford Primary School.

“This has given more support for reading and literacy to primary age children in the Wallyford area and we have also been able to maintain a high level of library opening hours in recent years.”

The report on the service said: “The library service has changed significantly over the years and many more services are provided within our libraries than have been previously.

“[The library service] continues to adapt to society changes and demands and going forward the service will be developed to promote reading for pleasure in particular and be available for those who need a bit more support, whether this be through giving assistance with digital developments or guidance in literacy or being a place for people to meet and socialise.”

The most popular library in the county is in Haddington, where the number of visitors to the John Gray Centre facility was 129,905 last year.

Haddington and Lammermuir ward councillor Craig Hoy said: “Haddington Library is the busiest in the county and that underscores its importance to the town and the wider community.

“It’s fantastic to see it being so well used and we should continue to explore what additional facilities and services can be located at the library and the John Gray Centre to ensure they continue to attract residents of all ages.

“The hardworking staff do a stellar job and should be commended for their contribution to the local community.”

The next plan for the service is to move Musselburgh Library into the council-owned Brunton Hall.