Proposals to transform the Library Service to achieve savings of £1.76 million were agreed by the Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage, Councillor Seán Woodward, at his Decision Day (28 July 2020).
The decision was made following an extensive public consultation, which showed strong support for the County Council’s vision to adapt the Library Service to the changing needs of its customers.
Councillor Woodward said:
In coming to this decision, we have carefully analysed data on library use, alongside the valuable input of more than 21,000 people who shared their views in our public consultation. I have spoken to many consultees and visited every library in Hampshire.
Over 70% of respondents agreed with the need for Hampshire’s Library Service to adapt to meet the changing demands placed on it. Proposals to deliver efficiencies, generate additional income and explore different ways of delivering library services all received high levels of support. We will be exploring these areas as we start to shape the service for the future.
The consultation outlined the need for a reduction of £1.76 million from the library budget in line with savings that all County Council services must make, to bridge the funding gap faced by local authorities everywhere as demands for services rise, particularly in social care.
Councillor Woodward continued:
The recommendations I have agreed today put the Library Service in a strong position to meet the savings that are required now as well as likely in the future. They recognise the public preference expressed in the consultation of a reduction of hours over individual closures, and we have reduced the number of libraries proposed for closure from ten to eight accordingly. These eight libraries currently account for less than 5% of issues and only 5% of visits to all libraries in Hampshire.
However, we have put a in place package of measures which could see these eight libraries continuing by transitioning into community libraries, and we’re providing County Council support to help them to do that.
Of course, closing any library is a hard thing to have to do. I am pleased that voluntary groups have taken a strong interest in running their local libraries independently. We will be doing what we can to help these communities get these projects off the ground.
Following Councillor Woodward’s decision, eight libraries will close, rather than ten, and there will be a reduction in opening hours of the remaining libraries averaging 20%.
Of the ten libraries originally proposed for possible closure, consultation feedback, additional data and alternative suggestions indicated that the libraries at Chineham and Emsworth should not be closed. The impacts of potentially closing the remaining eight libraries at Blackfield, Elson, Fair Oak, Horndean, Lee-on-the-Solent, Lyndhurst, Odiham and South Ham have all been carefully assessed and mitigation measures proposed. The closures will be implemented on 1 January 2021.
A second public consultation will be launched on 3 August 2020, to confirm the actual opening times at each council-run library following the decision to reduce opening hours by an average of 20% of the remaining 40 libraries. The consultation will be available at www.hants.gov.uk/library-consultation on 3 August and run for two weeks. The changes to hours will be largely completed by January 2021.
As part of the changes, support will be withdrawn from Hampshire’s four community-managed libraries. However, following feedback from the consultation, there will be additional mitigation measures to ensure these libraries can continue to provide a valued service to their customers including supplies of new books and one-off financial support.
At his Decision Day, Councillor Woodward agreed three additional recommendations designed to support libraries transition to independent community libraries:
For Independent Community Libraries to have access to the Library Service Group Membership Scheme to refresh their physical stock and to reserve specific titles from the Hampshire Library Collection, including Ready Reads if collected on behalf of a Hampshire Library customer.
To extend the current lease at Lyndhurst Library through to the end of December 2020, subject to the consent of the landlord.
To make available awards of up to £10,000 from the Recreation and Heritage Community Fund to the eight libraries agreed for closure and the four community run libraries. In addition, advice from County Council officers will be available for up to one year to support the transition of library functions and property handover.
Councillor Woodward added:
Our aim is to provide the best possible Library Service within our means – one that is fit for the future Although this means we must reduce costs it does not stop us from innovating and seizing new opportunities.
For example, while digital take-up was strong before lockdown, even more people of all ages have signed up to digital library services during the pandemic. People have responded very positively to the different ways of accessing library services through the innovative use of technology.