13 June 2011

Plans to transform the county’s library and information service are set to take an important step forward with the launch of the first part of a detailed consultation this weekend (11th June).

Northamptonshire County Council is beginning an extensive library review which aims to ensure the county’s libraries are fit for the 21st century.

This is the first stage of the review during which the council will be speaking to key groups and organisations already involved with libraries such as Friends of the Library groups, district and borough councils and parish councils to get their thoughts, feedback and ideas on how the service can be developed to ensure they can continue to thrive despite the current financial challenges.

The results of these discussions will then inform a public consultation due to take place in the autumn.

Councillor Heather Smith, county council cabinet member for customer services said: “The financial challenges we are currently tackling are well known and it comes as no surprise to say that we simply cannot afford to continue to completely fund the library service ourselves.

“This is why we are starting our review by speaking with our partners and key stakeholders as libraries need their help. The thousands of responses we received during our library closure proposals earlier this year showed us just how much libraries are valued by people living and working in the county and we want to harness this enthusiasm and support. In fact, many people have said that they would be prepared to pay something towards keeping their service.

“This review is very much a draft – it provides an alternative view where instead of closing libraries or reducing opening hours, we go all out to diversify the way they are funded. We are facing a future where contributions from residents and local organisations, whether in time, in money or in kind, are asked for, recognised and appreciated.”

The overall aim of the library review is to make libraries more self-supporting over the next four years and therefore reduce council costs by up to 50%. The review also looks at the important role libraries already play within their communities and how this can be built upon. This first draft of the consultation document considers several ways of achieving this including:

  • Creating new models for delivering libraries that make the most of community contributions to the service, including volunteering, donations and sponsorship.
  • Reorganising the current libraries to provide community hubs which include a range of other public services.
  • Exploring the possibility of a mutual library service where local people can contribute more directly in the delivery and maintenance of their library service
  • Looking at shared service opportunities with neighbouring library services.
  • Using libraries as prosperity centres with job clubs, small business advice etc to drive forward the county’s economic recovery.
  • Continue to develop the libraries as hubs of community involvement and volunteering to help make the Big Society real in Northamptonshire.
  • Review opening hours to include Sunday opening for all libraries to improve accessibility and support the development of their new roles.
  • Develop the Friends of the Library groups and increase customer contributions and involvement, including creating a donation and bequest strategy.

Councillor Heather Smith said: “We already have a thriving and well-loved service with 3 million visits a year and growing; 58% of people in this county said they used a library last year compared with 41% nationally and increasing numbers of people join every year.

“Our challenge now is not just about turning all that goodwill into cash or action – it is finding a good way to keep that up long-term to ensure libraries have a strong future.

“We want to work with people to ensure libraries remain at the heart of our local communities but the ideas and options we are discussing will potentially mean a very different library service in the future.

“For example, we have not ruled out changing the status of the service to be a mutual or provident society. We are also considering extending our experience of running a good value, effective and highly-innovative library service to run other library services and enable further significant income to be generated.

“We are not saying that libraries won’t change and look different or be replaced by shared services or relocated – but we are committing to the current network of 36 libraries.

“We face a massive challenge but we face it together.”

The consultation is being launched with a group meeting of the 25 Friends of the Library groups on Saturday 11 June at 9:00 a.m. Higham Ferrers Library.

The first draft of the library review 2012-15 is out for consultation with key stakeholders until the end of July. A revised version for public consultation will be out in the autumn.