Change of plan for libraries: get ready for swipe cards

September 30 2016

FIRST the good news: Downend Library's opening hours will not be cut but are set to be increased.


FIRST the good news: Downend Library's opening hours will not be cut but are set to be increased.

Now the bad news: for most of the time the library is open, it will not be staffed.

The same applies to Staple Hill and Emersons Green and most of the other libraries in South Gloucestershire. They will be open seven days a week from 9am to 8pm but outside “core hours” registered users will have to swipe a card to get in to the buildings.

The Conservative-controlled council has come up with the scheme, which it believes will save half a million pounds a year while maintaining access to libraries.

The system, known as “Open Plus”, will be tried out at Bradley Stoke library and is likely to be rolled out across the district from October 2017.

It was not one of the main options put forward in the lengthy public consultation exercise carried out earlier this year, which led to petitions of 1,000 signatures each in support of Downend and Staple Hill libraries, an online petition in favour of Emersons Green library and hundreds of individual contributions.

Most respondents strongly opposed the council's proposals, which involved cutting opening hours at most libraries to two days a week.

There was a question in the consultation about unstaffed libraries – and 84 per cent of Downend Library respondents were against this idea.

However, the council's Environment and Community Services Committee has voted to pursue as its preferred option the updated programme, making use of new technology with the aim of “future-proofing” the service and ensuring that no library building will have to close.

It will conduct further consultation before Christmas to find out what people think of Open Plus and what they think would be the best times for their local libraries to be staffed.

Under the “new model”, which is aimed at saving £500,000 a year rather than £650,000 across the district, Downend Library's staffed opening hours would drop from 41.5 to 21.5 a week , Staple Hill's from 34 to 21.5 and Emersons Green's from 38 to 21.5. These reductions are slightly lower than those originally proposed.

A final decision is due to be made in the New Year.

Councillor Heather Goddard, chair of the ECS committee, said: “It is very clear that people in South Gloucestershire value their libraries and while we have to make savings, we want to ensure that these facilities remain at the heart of our communities into the future.

“We are very excited with the prospect that new technology could actually make our libraries available to more people, more of the time.

“I believe that many library users and potentially many who do cannot get to a library during current opening hours, will look forward to the prospect of being able to browse and borrow books, use the computers and use other library services when the buildings would normally be closed and unavailable.”

Staple Hill Councillor Ian Boulton, Labour’s lead member on libraries issues, said the Conservatives were seeking to use Open Plus as a fig leaf for their large-scale cuts to South Gloucestershire’s library service.

“Their proposal will impose a 33 per cent cut in staffed hours across the district and an unquantified large cut to our library staffing levels is inevitable,” he said.

Library supporters at the committee meeting in Thornbury on September 7 raised doubts about the cost and reliability of the Open Plus system, They expressed concerns about the loss of trained librarians and the security risks of unstaffed libraries, especially as there were no plans for live-monitored CCTV measures.

Georgina Tankard, from the union Unison, said: “Open Plus raises huge inequality issues.”

It could present difficulties for teenagers, elderly people, women, black and minority ethnic people, the geographically isolated and the visually impaired, she said.

The council's decision to use funds to reduce the charge for green bin collections rather than support libraries also came in for criticism.

But Emersons Green Councillor Colin Hunt said the lower green bin fee was necessary to encourage recycling. He praised officers for pursuing the Open Plus system and urged councillors and library users to give it a chance.