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Shropshire library boss's pledge over service changes

Bridgnorth | News | Published:

Changes to services at Shropshire's libraries as a result of budget cuts will be made on a case-by-case basis.

That is the pledge from Michael Lewis, head of the library service for Shropshire Council, who today said people will be asked what is important to them in their libraries.

While some libraries, such as Shrewsbury and Oswestry, are performing well both in terms of visitor numbers and the services they offer, Mr Lewis said more thought needed to be put in to other libraries.

Back in 2012, library opening hours at the borough's then nine libraries were cut in a bid to save £330,000 to help bridge a £20 million funding gap in council coffers.

But, unlike elsewhere in the country, none was actually closed for good.

The borough's libraries were open for an average of just over 32 hours a week, which was reduced to an average of just over 27 hours a week.

Telford & Wrekin Council's cabinet approved the move and said its priority was to ensure no libraries closed.

Added to the commitment to prevent libraries from shutting, council chiefs went one step further and actually opened a new one. The Southwater Library opened in the new golden-clad Southwater One building last year since when people have flocked to the new 25,000-book facility.

"Shropshire is like everywhere else in that there's a decline in the use across the county," Mr Lewis said. "But I think now we're making them vibrant and bringing in ebooks and magazines.

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"Oswestry is booming at the moment with lots of activity and interaction with the public. It's a good example of the way things can be done.

"There are people who like the social aspect of the library. They can come out to a meeting and meet people.

"For Oswestry what we need to do is combine these services with the hub and library. What we want to do is to have one service rather than a multitude.

"Everything is still evolving and we want to make sure it's the best fit for the library. It's still not perfect, but that's why we're having conversations with the community at the moment to see what people want."

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In other areas plans include joint working to cut costs on library buildings, with the library sharing space with another service.

He said: "What we're trying to do is to develop conversations with each community that a library is in to get the best offer in that community and around, making the savings in the community at the same time.

The council has made the changes as it tries to save £350,000 on its libraries budget in the next 12 months.

Members of the public were quizzed on the future of Mid Wales' libraries in a consultation last year and they roundly rejected the option of closure and instead called for a reduction in opening hours, which will now be cut by 20 per cent.

Councillor Graham Brown, the council's cabinet member for library services, said: "Nearly 2,000 people responded to our consultation and 71 per cent supported the option of reducing opening hours by 20 per cent.

"The opening hours changes will not deliver sufficient savings on their own and the council will have to change the mobile library service from a fortnightly operation to every four weeks.

"The 20 per cent reduction in opening hours and mobile library changes will be introduced from April 1."

"In Ludlow we have a huge hub where you've got the library and customer services and the registrar in the same building as the museum resource centre. We run a lot of computer classes and other activities there.

"In Craven Arms the Furniture Scheme runs the library with support from the council. Last year it moved from the Secret Hills Discovery Centre to the community centre in the town. It's unique as it's the first wholly-run community library in Shropshire.

"For Church Stretton the offer is to move the library from its current building to the school to maintain the service. We've been having discussions with the school and a meeting with residents to hear their views.

"Bridgnorth Library shares its building with the Bridgnorth Visitor Information Centre."

Mr Lewis said he wanted to stress that he was as passionate about keeping libraries open as the people who use them each week. He said: "For me, libraries are at the heart and soul of communities. We need community input into what to do, but we really need people to work with us and not against us.

"It's about a long-term sustainable library service. We want to maintain it and make sure it's there for the future. All the libraries have their own unique selling point – sometimes it's the activities they put on, sometimes it's a service they offer, and sometimes it's the staff. We want to try to keep those things going. I think Shropshire is unique in that we are trying to have these conversations to keep libraries open rather than to close them, and we're not trying to roll out a one-size-fits-all solution.

"But doing it with conversations in each area rather than going in and saying 'we're going to do this or cut that' is the way to do it. If we have these conversations and get this information across I think we can have a sustainable future for all of Shropshire's libraries."

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