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The village where everyone is a “wealthy achiever” — data and the future of libraries

Otley is the most consistently wealthy village in Suffolk, according to a database being used used by Suffolk County Council in its libraries consultation. Everyone, bar none, in this pleasant village strung-out along the B1079 north of Woodbridge lives in a household of “wealthy achievers”.

I found this by chance, in my attempt to understand some figures in the Debenham information pack which is a part of the consultation documentation. It quotes ACORN data, which divides people into four categories: wealthy achievers, urban prosperity, moderate means and hard pressed.

It is ACORN data which explains whether you get pestered by loan sharks or investment brokers, and helps Waitrose and Aldi decide where to open stores.

I was surprised 225 of the 307 “Register Users Borrowed in Last Year” (sic)  at Debenham were “Wealthy Achievers.”

The company which produces the ACORN statistics describes “Wealthy Achievers” as:

These are some of the most successful and affluent people in the UK. They live in wealthy, high-status rural, semi-rural and suburban areas of the country. Middle-aged or older people predominate, with many empty nesters and wealthy retired. Some neighbourhoods contain large numbers of well-off families with school-age children, particularly the more suburban locations.

These people live in large houses, which are usually detached with four or more bedrooms.

The proportion in this classification using Debenham library is reasonably close to the overall ACORN data for Debenham. The county data, by electoral ward is available from Suffolk Observatory, an online store of data, statistics and reports, run by a partnership of councils, the police and the NHS.

A chart in the Debenham library information back goes beyond broad “wealthy achievers” and “hard pressed” categories. It tells us that 42 borrowers were old people living in detached houses, while 22 were well-off managers living in larger houses, if we dig a bit deeper. To do that you will need to download the ACORN user guide here.

There are some questions that need answering:

  1. How accurate is the ACORN data?
  2. Is it appropriate for the library consultation?
  3. How are individual book borrowers related to the third and most detailed level of ACORN classification?
  4. What information does the library service hold on individual borrowers?
  5. Why was this data used, rather than a simpler neighbourhood profile?

There are other puzzles in the consultation documentation. For example, why does each loan at Ipswich library cost £5.06 a loan while at the Chantry library, less than two miles away, they cost £2.14?

Twenty nine Suffolk libraries are thretened with closure if they are not taken-over by community organisations.

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