Libraries to be loaned out of hours

COUNTY libraries will be opened up to voluntary groups and charities when the premises are shut, after the idea was supported by councillors.

Herts County Council (HCC) is proposing to offer library buildings to groups out-of-hours, and is now in a position to start looking into pilot schemes, although a spokesman said the council did not yet know where these would be.

The idea was discussed at a panel meeting, identifying opportunities to extend self-service access. But there were concerns over any costs that could be incurred, including additional security measures.

Chris Hayward, HCC cabinet member for libraries, said: “It is also possible that members of the public will be able to use their local library during these extended hours to borrow, return or renew books and DVDs, pay fines or use the public computers.

“While the buildings will not be staffed during these extended hours, the county council’s customer services team will be available to provide support via telephone.

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“We hope this innovative and exciting initiative will make libraries more like community hubs than simply learning resources. This will benefit our communities and help build stronger links with voluntary groups in Hertfordshire.”

North Herts-based support group We Heart Libraries said that, while it welcomed stronger community involvement, there were concerns it could lead to groups taking over the staffing of services.

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Andy Darley, co-founder, said: “It is encouraging to hear Cllr Hayward acknowledge that libraries are such an important service for people in North Herts and Stevenage - this is precisely why we believe they need to be open for longer and staffed by trained, experienced people whose priority is good customer service.

“This [the proposed scheme] is not the same thing and it risks short-changing users. It also raises all kinds of troubling issues. How will members of the public tell whether people are on hand to help them, or using the building for their own projects? Who will take responsibility for security?

“We are also worried that this plan risks setting the current opening hours in stone, with agreements being signed that make it much harder for the council to reconsider them in the future, as it originally suggested it would when its economic circumstances improved.”

Library user Sue Jones, who used to volunteer in Bedfordshire, also supported the greater involvement, but showed some reservations about the practicality.

She said: “Personally, I would welcome the opportunity but would be concerned if we had to pay.

“I’d be interested to see how it works but I think it could be a good thing, particularly for those with limited resources.”

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