Council backtracks on proposed library cuts

Bradley Stoke Library (temporary entrance during redevelopment work in 2016).

South Gloucestershire Council has backtracked on controversial plans to close or severely restrict opening hours at many of its libraries after thousands of people voiced opposition to a range of cost-cutting options outlined in a recent public consultation.

Instead, councillors have voted to investigate the use of a new technology, known as ‘Open Plus’, which it is claimed allows users to access the full range of library services without the need for staffing. This technology includes access using pre-approved library cards, and the use of CCTV for security and the identification and management of problems. Users are able to issue and discharge stock themselves, using existing self-service facilities, and access IT facilities.

The new technology would allow registered members to use library facilities for 11 hours a day, seven days a week, between 9am and 8pm.

It had already been decided that Bradley Stoke Library would utilise Open Plus technology, and this is currently in the process of being installed, in parallel with the leisure centre redevelopment. The council now says it will use the Bradley Stoke site as a “pilot”, to help identify how the new technology could be rolled out across South Gloucestershire.

If the decision is made to implement the Open Plus solution, it would require the council to make a one-off capital investment of up to £400,000.

The council’s Environment and Community Services (ECS) committee has also agreed to recommend a preferred option that would reduce the library service savings target from £650,000 to £500,000 (per annum, ongoing), which will help retain a higher level of staffed hours than had previously been envisaged. In the case of Bradley Stoke, these would reduce from the present 45.5 hours to 35 hours a week.

Councillor Heather Goddard, Chair of the ECS committee, said:

“It is very clear that people in South Gloucestershire value their libraries and while we have to make savings, we want to ensure that these facilities remain at the heart of our communities into the future.”

“Access to libraries out of staffed hours is not about replacing staff, it is about providing a service in addition to their expertise, when we would otherwise not be able to offer anything. We are very excited with the prospect that new technology could actually make our libraries available to more people, more of the time.”

“We have been planning an Open Plus technology pilot at Bradley Stoke library for some time and that will start in the coming months. Having been told loud and clear during the consultation how important access to a local library is to so many people, we will now use this pilot, as well as learning from Peterborough, Barnet and other authorities that have successfully added this level of service to their libraries, to help us identify how we can best make it work across South Gloucestershire.”

“I believe that many library users and potentially many who cannot get to a library during current opening hours, will look forward to the prospect of being able to browse and borrow books, use the computers and use other library services when the buildings would normally be closed and unavailable.”

The council will now launch a further three-month consultation to hear the public’s views on the use of Open Plus-style technology and staffed library opening hours within the preferred option model. Details of that consultation will be made available online and through libraries in the coming weeks.

A final decision will be made in the New Year with implementation to take place in October 2017.

Photo: Bradley Stoke Library (temporary entrance during redevelopment work in 2016).

Postscript (17th October): The council’s new consultation, Changes to Library Services Phase 2, has now been launched. It is open until 2nd January 2017.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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