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Thursday 3 April 2014

Cheshire east committed to keeping its libraries and boosting them as community hubs – while increasing value for money


Cheshire East Council says it is committed to keeping open all 16 of its libraries and to widening their appeal to communities – despite pressures on its budget.

A report to Cabinet yesterday (April 1) explained the Council aims to broaden the role of its libraries as community hubs that attract a wider audience and buck the national trend of declining library use and closures by other local authorities.

Restructuring of the library service and electronic book lending and returning has improved productivity and saved £700,000 in costs.

Reorganisation of contracts and central supply services will save a further £300,000 and means the Borough’s 16 libraries will remain open and with enhanced services.

The Council has made savings of around £500,000 as a consequence of greater use of e-books and negotiating better deals on the purchase of traditional books, which have fallen in price.

Cheshire East libraries receive 1.8 million visitors and issue 2.7 million books each year.

Councillor David Brown, Cheshire East Council Cabinet member in charge of strategic communities, said: “As a Council we recognise the valuable role that our libraries play in their communities and we are committed to retaining libraries in the 16 towns they are in today.

“Cheshire East libraries are highly valued by our residents – and by this Council.  Indeed a recent libraries’ survey reported 95 per cent of users were satisfied with the library service in Cheshire East. 

“Our service also gets good usage. We are proud to have the highest number of books borrowed each year of all unitary authorities, and the third-highest out of all UK local authorities.  But we think we can make the service better at serving the needs of our communities – and give greater value for money. 

“Expectations of libraries have evolved and, if they are to represent value for money to all residents, they must become more relevant to a wider section of the community. They should be a key resource to help our local communities become stronger and support people to develop the life skills and education they need to thrive in the modern world.

“Libraries would not exist, however, without their traditional purpose of lending books and so our challenge is balancing the expectations of our traditional library users with the diverse needs and expectations of residents that visit our libraries to seek help with finding a job, get information on benefits, develop digital skills or participate in community activities.

“It is our ambition to broaden the role of our libraries and develop community hubs that appeal to a wider audience and buck the national trend of declining library usage.

“Our strategy aims to deliver a comprehensive, efficient and sustainable library service for the people of Cheshire East.

“In these challenging economic times, we are committed to ensuring we get real value for money for our local Council Tax payers.”

The Council’s Three-Year Plan established a project to develop a new model for sustainable library services and community hubs. 

A public consultation of library users was commissioned to ensure we design and deliver a sustainable library service that meets the expectations of our residents.

The service that local people tend to value is a traditional one, with an emphasis on borrowing books. The changes they desire tend to be enhancements or modernisations of the current library offer: wi-fi, e-books and better zoning to allow for both quiet study and provision for children in the same building.” 

The service priorities set out in the Libraries strategy are now more closely aligned to the Council’s Three Year Plan and, in particular, reflect the evolving role of libraries as community hubs within some of our towns.

The service priorities for our libraries are:

● Improve literacy;

● Support informal learning;

● Enable digital inclusion;

● Provide information;

● Develop libraries as community hubs; and

● Improve efficiency to give best value for local people.

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