Residents of South Gloucestershire are being encouraged to take part in a second round of consultation on the future of library services in the area after the local authority backtracked on it original plans to close a number of libraries or severely restrict their opening hours.
The council’s revised plan, which sees the targeted savings scaled back by 23 percent, centres around the introduction of new technology which would allow people to use libraries even when there are no staff on duty.
At the heart of the new proposals is a reduced savings target, reduced from £650,000 to £500,000, from an annual budget of £2.6million. This means that staffed hours would not be reduced by as much as previously anticipated.
The plans also propose introducing an ‘open access’ technology that would mean extended opening hours for libraries when no staff are on duty, potentially from 8.30am to 7.30pm, 7 days a week. This would be an extension of opening hours of up to 100 per cent over current hours and could make libraries much more accessible to people who cannot normally get to them during current opening times. Investment in this new technology would incur one-off costs of up to £400,000.
It is also proposed that the mobile library service be replaced with community centre-based libraries across South Gloucestershire, run by volunteer groups. The Council would also fund the building costs of Chipping Sodbury Library with the service being delivered by volunteers. These plans would mean that no library building would have to close as a result of the savings.
Views are sought on each of these proposals as well as peoples’ preferences for patterns of staffed opening hours. The preferred plans see libraries grouped into geographical ‘clusters’ with the aim of ensuring that there is a staffed library open six days a week (Monday to Saturday) within each cluster. No libraries would be staffed on a Sunday.
Locally, Bradley Stoke Library would form a cluster with the libraries in Patchway and Filton. Staffed hours would amount to 35 hours per week at Bradley Stoke (currently 45.5), 24 hours per week at Patchway (33.5) and 26 hours at Filton (41.5).
While the consultation process is under way, the council will also be conducting a pilot of a form of open access technology, called Open Plus, at Bradley Stoke Library.
A council spokesperson said:
“While the technology is widely used in parts of Europe and increasingly across the UK, it is important that we can get first-hand experience and identify the ways in which we would need to adapt it to work for South Gloucestershire if a decision is made to adopt it.”
That pilot will begin later in the autumn and library users at Bradley Stoke will be invited to register for the service, be given an induction on how to use the service and be asked for feedback on their experiences.
The technology works by granting registered library members the ability to use their existing library card with a PIN to ‘swipe in’ to the library. Their card will act as a key to release the door lock and the door will open. All the services – lights, heating, and computers – will be activated upon entry.
The library will be covered by CCTV which will record both inside the building and outside, and each person entering will be recorded. At closing time, an announcement will warn people in plenty of time that the library building is closing. Once closed, if someone has not left the building, an alarm will be activated and security staff will be alerted.
The current proposals are that all library users over the age of 16 will be able to register for open access and this is one of the areas that we are keen to hear feedback on. The registration process will include an induction session to learn how open access works.
Councillor Heather Goddard, Chair of the Environment and Community Services (ECS) committee, said:
“We were pleased with the level of support for the first phase of consultation and the depth of responses we had. Building on that feedback we have adopted an alternative option that means we can retain more staff hours, but also potentially offer current and potential library users more access to services.
“We want to hear from everyone, current library users as well as those who may be encouraged to use libraries out of current hours, about how they would prefer us to proceed.”
• The consultation is open until 2nd January 2017. Full details are available online at www.southglos.gov.uk/librarychanges. Consultation documents are also available in all libraries and One Stop Shops.
Local MP Jack Lopresti has voiced concerns about the use of ‘open access’ technology at local libraries. In a letter sent to the Journal, he asks: “What does this mean for the people visiting the library alone, especially the vulnerable? What about the security of the libraries’ premises and their contents?”.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on page 8). The magazine is 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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