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Cabinet member writes letter on Essex libraries

17th July 2019
Posted by Johnny Jenkins

Essex County Councillor, Susan Barker (Cabinet Member for Customer, Corporate, Culture and Communities) has written a letter about libraries in Essex. This comes after the news that libraries within the county will remain open.

The letter is entitled:

Essex Future Library Services Strategy 2019-2024

The letter reads as follows:

From November 2018 to February 2019 we consulted on our proposed strategy for library services. We’ve listened to your feedback and have changed the proposals in our revised strategy.

The revised strategy proposes a future for every single library in Essex, as well as giving the service the opportunity to expand. It also commits that no libraries will close in the next five years.

The new strategy focuses on two key elements:

  • Developing an investment plan to improve libraries
  • Working with and supporting community groups or other partner organisations to set up community-run libraries, with the aim of ensuring a library service is retained in every current location, and potentially established in three or more new locations.

We want to revive libraries in Essex and protect them. To that end, the revised strategy proposes a £3million investment programme for library services. This money will be spent on:

  • Improving libraries to deliver a consistent, high-quality look and feel across libraries in the Council-run network
  • Up to date and flexible library management computer systems
  • Upskilling staff and volunteers to improve the service to users
  • Embracing new technology and ‘smart libraries’ functionality that enables users to choose when and how they access books and learning materials
  • Delivering more outreach than ever before – taking the library service into a wide range of communities.

We are committed to ensuring library services reflect needs of communities and we will be offering a significant support package to organisations wishing to take over delivery of library services.

This includes grant funding of £18,000 over three years, an initial donation of books, refresh of reading materials and support to community-run library groups to train volunteers.

With community support the long-term future of all our libraries will be assured. In fact, the revised strategy is a huge opportunity to create the largest network of community-run libraries in the country.

Another key element of the strategy is opening hours. Responses to the consultation indicated that this was important to people, and we want to create an overall pattern of library opening in Council run libraries that will maximise access to libraries through a combination of staffed opening hours, volunteer supported opening hours, smart library technology and an improved eLibrary offer. We will begin work to develop an approach to opening hours and respond to changes in demand over time, but we will not make any changes to opening hours in Council-run libraries for the first year of this strategy.

The strategy will be discussed by Place Services and Economic Growth Policy Scrutiny Committee on 18 July and decided on by Cabinet on 23 July.

Kind regards,

Cllr Susan Barker
Cabinet Member for Customer, Corporate, Culture and Communities

SOLE – the Save Our Libraries Essex Campaign – have responded to the letter, saying:

‘Last year there was a fantastic victory for people power, when thousands protested across the county and prevented the closure of a third of Essex’s libraries. However, many of our libraries, in particular the satellite libraries, remain in grave danger as a result of proposals for so called “community libraries”.’

Essex County Council plans to sell off the buildings for the satellite libraries, get rid of the professional librarians, and have them housed – perhaps even from inside a pub as was suggested by one councillor –  and run by volunteers.  It is a closure plan by stealth. People power won a vital victory last year, and it needs to so again to stop this act of cultural vandalism.’

‘Let’s be clear, Essex County Council set our libraries up to fail with years of cuts and under investment. In the last ten years the book stock has been cut by nearly half a million titles. Opening hours have been slashed. If a book shop owner cut stock and opening hours their business would struggle. Essex County Council needs to reverse these cuts by extending opening hours and investing, and scrapping its closure plan by stealth. Hands off our libraries!’

For more information about libraries in Essex, please click here.