Your chance to influence library of the future

October 07 2016

CHATTERBOOKS for children or a coffee morning for elderly people – which are the most valuable activities at Hanham Library?


CHATTERBOOKS for children or a coffee morning for elderly people – which are the most valuable activities at Hanham Library?

Users will be asked later this year to share their views with South Gloucestershire Council on how the service can best be provided within a reduced budget.

It's all part of a package agreed by councillors last month aimed at saving half a million pounds a year on libraries across the district.

They have come up with a scheme to keep libraries open from 9am to 8pm seven days a week but unstaffed outside “core hours”.

The swipe-card system, known as Open Plus, will be tried out at Bradley Stoke library and is likely to be rolled out across the district from October 2017.

Core hours at libraries will be reduced, although not by as much as originally proposed. Hanham is set to be open for 26 hours a week instead of 41.5.

The council is planning a new round of consultation in which people will be asked which days and times libraries should be staffed. Users will also be invited to say what they think of the idea of access to unstaffed libraries, although they have been warned that extending opening hours is not an option SGC can afford.

Save Hanham Library campaigners, who collected more than 3,000 signatures earlier this year against proposed cuts to the service, are urging people to take part in the new consultation, attend information meetings, and put pressure on councillors in the hope of bringing about a change of heart before a final decision is made in the New Year.

Abi Unwin, from the group, said that although the proposed 26 hours a week was better than the original 18 hours, it was still not enough.

“We  feel that there are no times in the week where Hanham Library isn't well used. There are no events or activities which aren't highly valued. We don't want to make this choice: we want to keep our library fully staffed and open at its current levels,” she said.

One option for increasing opening hours would be for parish councils to fund additional staff time, so group members will be attending Hanham Parish Council and Hanham Abbots Parish Council meetings in November to ask them to consider this, Mrs Unwin said.

An open forum meeting to discuss libraries will take place at  Kingswood Library on November 10 at 7pm. The subject will also be on the agenda at a community  engagement forum at Hanham Community Centre, also at 7pm.

The decisionto pursue the Open Plus system was taken by the council's Environment and Community Services Committee at a meeting in Thornbury on September 7 in spite of  concerns expressed by Save Hanham Library representatives and others.

They were unhappy at the introduction of Open Plus, which was not one of the options put forward during the first consultation.

Hanham 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.We are very excited with the prospect that new technology could actually make our libraries available to more people, more of the time.

“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.”

Councillor Ian Boulton, Labour’s lead member on libraries issues, said the Conservatives were seeking to use Open Plus as a fig leaf for their large-scale cuts to South Gloucestershire’s library service.

Library supporters  raised doubts about the cost and reliability of the Open Plus system, They expressed concerns about the loss of trained librarians and the security risks of unstaffed libraries, especially as there were no plans for live-monitored CCTV measures.

Georgina Tankard, from the union Unison, said: “Open Plus raises huge inequality issues.”

It could present difficulties for teenagers, elderly people, women, black and minority ethnic people, the geographically isolated and the visually impaired, she said.

The council's decision to use funds to reduce the charge for green bin collections rather than support libraries also came in for criticism.