Fear for libraries as plans to rent out to organisations aired

14:11 13 October 2011

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Archant

A COUNCIL is looking into the possibility of opening up county libraries to groups when they are closed, but there are fears it could have an impact on services.

Herts County Council discussed extending the use of its buildings to local groups, colleges and voluntary organisations outside opening hours at its Local and Libraries Cabinet Panel last Thursday, with plans to roll out a pilot scheme in the near future.

The proposal, which could affect the Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, and two Stevenage services, follows a total of 85 hours cut by the county council at those libraries.

Lisa Hutchins, co-founder of the North Herts based We Heart Libraries group which launched this week, said that while she welcomed involving community use, she was worried how it could affect users.

“The pilots should give people in North Herts and Stevenage even more opportunities to engage with their local libraries,” she said.

“However, in an ideal world, opening hours would not have been cut and they would be open to everyone at these times.”

If the scheme was to be rolled out, it could mean those cut library hours won’t be reinstated – something the county council had said could happen in the future.

Proposals to identify opportunities for community and volunteer involvement in the service are also being looked at, sparking concerns that it could lead to them co-staffing libraries.

“The council said when it made a decision to reduce opening hours, it would be open to the prospect of reversing that decision in the future if practicable,” added Lisa.

“I believe it is also due to consider the impact of the reduced hours as part of its scrutiny work next year, so any plans to use space in the buildings when libraries are closed would need to take that into account.

“I also hope Hertfordshire’s Future Libraries Strategy will recognise that good library services require paid professional staff if they are to serve their communities properly.

“Voluntary groups should be using the libraries as much as possible, but they are not the right people to be running the libraries. That is the council’s job.”

A spokesman from the county council said: “The panel welcomed the principle of allowing voluntary groups to use the libraries during closed times.”

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