Libraries are merging with GP surgeries, housing police front desks, providing shop space for local entrepreneurs and laying on music gigs and speed dating, a new report into the changing face of library services has revealed.
Research published by the Local Government Association (LGA) shows councils across the country have been finding innovative ways to keep providing library services while managing the 28 per cent budget cut announced in 2010.
What were only ideas a couple of years ago are now reality with many libraries having transformed into cultural hubs and centres to access a range of council services, as well as remaining places to borrow and read books.
However, creativity has not been able to plug every funding gap and some councils have had little alternative other than to close libraries. On the Government's existing spending plans it's inevitable that library budgets will face further cuts in many places and it will become increasingly difficult to prevent localised service reductions becoming more widespread. Were any further funding cuts to be announced it would be virtually impossible.
Themes emerging to maintain library services while saving money, as well as linking them to wider council goals of improving health, economy and community inclusion and cohesion, include:
The LGA report brings together this innovation and offers guidance to help councils successfully re-shape library services to make the most of their diminished budgets. It will be launched at its annual conference this week and stresses the importance of listening to communities, involving staff, finding alternative funding and combining services.
Councillor Flick Rea, Chair of the Local Government Association's Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:
"Councils know libraries are among the most valued services they provide and the last couple of years have been tough for residents who've seen the axe hover above libraries they grew up with. Councillors and officers have been wrangling with near impossible decisions on how to keep local libraries going with a fraction of the budget while still providing frontline services like adult social care, child protection, collecting bins and repairing roads.
"Across the country there's been a fantastic amount of creativity and ambition to modernise libraries in ways which better engage our younger generation, don't alienate existing users and make the most of our diminished resources. There have been a lot of difficult decisions, but what's emerging is a picture of great innovation and diversity as local libraries evolve to suit the needs of different communities.
"However, we're only half-way through this spending review and there are still tough years ahead. There have already been library closures and many of these new projects are in their infancy. Though we hope they all succeed this is far from guaranteed. It's vital Government recognises that this record of innovation does not mean it can keep cutting funding and expect councils to work miracles, perpetually doing more with less. There's a critical mass and we're already stretched to the limit. Further cuts on top of those we're already managing could well result in library closures across much of the country.
"Book borrowing and reading are still the key elements of a library, but increasingly important is making the internet and digital technology accessible to all so vast swathes of the population are not left behind. In tough times people also need easy access to advice about benefits, job seeking, business, training and health, as well as support with children and elderly relatives.
"A library in the 21st century can be a whole range of things, from a small e-book borrowing point based in a shop to part of a cultural hub which supports everything from education and lifelong learning to health, volunteering, art projects, small business, job hunting and social care."
Engaging the public
To engage the public in the re-design of its library services, Lambeth Council has created an online application which allows residents to create a new library with a limited, realistic budget. Visitors choose how much they want to spend on aspects like staff and books to running costs, maintenance and cleaning, as well as prioritising elements like children's events, cultural exhibitions and internet services. Once they've built their library, they can share their ideas and priorities with the council as well as other residents on Facebook. See Lambeth library link below.
Supporting local businesses
Libraries in Northamptonshire are now providing Enterprise Hubs which offer business start-up advice and mentoring, job clubs, business IT advice, and CV and finance workshops. Due to the programme's success, the county council extending the concept by setting up 'hatchery' spaces in its libraries. These will provide an opportunity for business incubation for up to one year, bringing the benefits of being based in a community hub with the knowledge surround the library provides. To help encourage young entrepreneurs, they are allocating one of the library business spaces to under-25s.
The Workzone area of the Shepherd's Bush library in Westfield is an partnership between Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, and Job Centre Plus. The project provides a dedicated recruitment and retention service for retailers on the Westfield site and for other employers, helping them to fill their jobs locally. Individuals benefit from a range of services from financial help with childcare costs to help with job interview techniques.
Supporting adults with learning difficulties
'Making the difference' is an innovative project led by Kent County Council to support adults with learning difficulties. Elements have included an information library staffed by adults with learning disabilities employed as paid staff, placing Easy Access collections of books and DVDs chosen by adults with learning disabilities in town centre libraries, providing volunteering and work experience opportunities, and holding events. More than 1,000 adults with learning disabilities have got involved.
Merging with GP surgery
In Rutland, a library has merged with a GP surgery to create Ketton Library and Surgery Hub. The project was the result of partnership working between Rutland Council, local parish councils, the surgery and primary care trust. The councils were exploring ways to increase the use of the library site when in 2010 it was announced Ketton Surgery would close. This provided an opportunity to retain essential local services, and also improve the accessibility of both elements. The joint hub opened this month.
The Healthy Living Hub in Croydon Central Library is an innovative project funded jointly by NHS Croydon and Croydon Council. As a face-to-face advice and support service about healthy lifestyles, it offers services such as arm chair exercises for older people, sexual health advice and contraception, and provides a space to link with other voluntary agencies and NHS teams. It received about 7,000 visitors last year and is contributing to council targets for increasing participation in sport, reducing obesity and reducing smoking.
Merging council, police and cultural services
Warwickshire County Council provides numerous local services under one roof, including applying for benefits, housing and planning services, reporting environmental health issues, faulty street lighting, abandoned vehicles and problems on the highway, accessing information about adult health and community services, trading standards and registration services, information on refuse and recycling collections, applying for bus passes and blue badges. Some libraries also provide front office police enquiries. This helps Warwickshire Police focus more resources on frontline policing, and libraries get paid per enquiry handled. Heritage and culture services and activities are also being promoted in the libraries which has helped reach out to rural and disadvantaged parts of the county. Libraries keep 70 per cent of the income from ticket sales.
Creating a cultural hub
Cardiff Central Library runs an extensive programme of events, the aims of which are to challenge people's perceptions of a traditional library, achieve social and learning outcomes for the service and the authority, and also encourage visits by new users. The events, which have ranged from fashion shows to speed dating, generate income which enables the programme to be self-sustaining. All are run on a minimal or zero budget, usually through partnerships with the private sector, local businesses and colleges, and are managed and delivered by library staff who are given tailored information packs for each event.
Lewisham Council is working with Eco Computer Systems (ECS) to run three multi-community libraries. Lewisham Council owns the buildings and is responsible for stock, while ECS leases the buildings and staffs them with a part-time manager and volunteers. This has seen the council make an annual saving of £800,000. The libraries provide book loans, free internet access, free training courses and a wide range of other local services. ECS raises income to help run the library through a social enterprise model – raising funds through recycling IT equipment, running training courses and hiring out training rooms, running a café and selling donated books online through Amazon. Future ideas include installing a café in each library and expanding activities, for example by running a pop-up cinema and taster poetry sessions.
York City Council formed a partnership with Aviva to re-design its main library into an Explore Library Learning Centre – a traditional city library coupled with services such as a café, children's area, learning rooms, wifi and self-service machines, reading and craft groups, and a photo booth and digital photo printing machine. Avia supplied £300,000 of funding. The partnership was so successful it's resulted in a further £1.5 million of external funding to enable the council to transform other libraries into Explore Library Learning Centres, carry out digital inclusion work and transform the City Archive. The council runs the café and profits are reinvested into the centres.
Staffordshire County Council is making e-books available to all library members. More than 1,000 titles can be borrowed, free of charge, for three weeks for use on book reading devices like smartphones, book readers or iPads. The download ‘expires' after the loan period ends and they can only be borrowed by one library user at a time. It has also rolled out Wifi access at all its main libraries.
Pioneering ‘bookshare' scheme
Sutton Council has launched a scheme which allows members of the public to share their favourite books. Sutton Bookshare involves people listing the books they own online. Scheme members then send a ‘lending request' and arrange with their fellow booklover how to make the exchange. The free scheme, thought to the first of its kind anywhere in the world, is open to anyone who lives or works in the borough. See Sutton Bookshare link below.
Merging library service across councils
In April, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Councils launched an integrated libraries and archives service, managed as a single service across the three boroughs, with local branding and delivery in line with local community needs. This will ensure savings of more than £1 million a year from reducing management and support costs. It will also ensure all of their 21 public libraries stay safe from closure. Once fully implemented, residents will gain access to one million books, hundreds of entertainment and cultural events and scores of weekly skills and education classes.
Merging different types of library
The Hive in Worcestershire is the first combined public and academic library in the country. It offers a joint catalogue of university stock and general library stock. Library service staff played a key role in the Hive's development and the building itself is staffed by both general and university librarians. The idea is that by co-locating services, a wider book stock and staff expertise are available to more users.
Notes to editors
Access a copy of the LGA's report 'Local solutions for future local library services'
The LGA's annual conference 2012 takes place at Birmingham ICC from Tuesday June 26 to Thursday 28. For more information see LGA annual conference 2012 link below.
Last year the LGA and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) (now disbanded) ran the Future Libraries Programme which worked with 36 councils helping them develop their library services. Its successor, the Libraries Development Initiative, is helping 13 projects by councils and other organisations to improve their library services, stimulate creativity and share learning in the development of library services.
For details of The Libraries Development Initiative see link below.
13 February 2013