Call for library service hours U-turn

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 November 2012

A case will be made to the council

A case will be made to the council

Archant

THE number of library users has plummeted since opening hours were slashed last year, and a campaign group is now calling on a council for a rethink.

Herts County Council (HCC) cut library opening hours by a third last year, in a bid to save money. Both Stevenage libraries as well those in Hitchin, Letchworth GC and Baldock were included.

But the cuts have had a knock-on effect on the number of people accessing a library. Active borrowers – those renting at least one book a year – fell by 11.4 per cent in that time, while library usage fell by 18.8 per cent.

Community group We Heart Libraries is appealing to the county council to increase hours again, and will make a presentation to its overview and scrutiny panel next month.

HCC had said when it implemented the cuts it would review opening hours a year later.

Group co-founder Andy Darley said: “The cuts last year reduced opening hours in our district by about a third. The aim was to make savings, but the user statistics show the real price we are all paying.

“A flourishing library network brings significant benefits to a community and pays for itself in the long term many times over.”

Mr Darley is also asking for people to share their experiences with him, so he can give an accurate picture to councillors.

“We particularly want to hear from people who now find they cannot visit a library at all following the change of hours, or who have lost access to a mobile library,” he added.

“We need the people most affected by the cuts to help us make sure their views are heard.”

At a meeting on Monday, the county council’s libraries panel agreed to explore self service opportunities for libraries, including those in Comet country. It has been piloting such a scheme at three facilities, where users can access unstaffed libraries manned by community groups. A county council report presented at the meeting said: “The partner-led self-service pilots have been successful in extending access to library services at times when the libraries would otherwise be closed, and this has been appreciated by local communities. There is evidence of take-up for this extended access.”

● Mr Darley can be contacted at hello@weheartlibraries.org.uk or by phone on 07757 801336.

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