Proposals to secure a sustainable future for Swindon’s Library Service will be discussed by councillors next Wednesday (July 13).
Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve a library strategy for consultation next Wednesday (13 July) which would create a core network of libraries including Central, North Swindon, West Swindon and Highworth. The strategy is in direct response to the financial pressures facing the Council and the need to save £1.5m from the library’s budget by 2020.
The core library network proposed in the strategy meets 74 per cent of current visits and would ensure that 80 per cent of current library users and 85 per cent of Swindon’s households are within two miles of a library.
The council will no longer fund the 11 libraries not within this core network from June 2017, according to the proposals.
But this provision could be extended even further as the Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve £500,000 in transitional funding to pay for the one-off costs of viable community-led solutions. Opening hours are also likely to be extended beyond staffed hours in the core Library network libraries via investment in self-service technology.
However, this funding is not available for building costs, public IT networks, staffing or maintenance of book stocks. One option being discussed is that alternative venues, companies or groups could choose from a ‘menu’ of free or paid services to offer in their area, applying for some of the transitional funding to host these services that would then not be hosted within the currently established library system. For example, a pub or community centre could be the central point for a book-drop system.
Under the strategy, outreach and learning services would be designed in partnership with communities and partners to promote literacy and learning. The Council would also provide dedicated resources to support the expansion of volunteering in libraries, the Home Library Service, and any additional forms of volunteering that preserve and enhance access to library services.
The proposed strategy was developed following feedback from the public. An emerging library model, which initially proposed to keep a core service at Central Library and a reduced level of targeted services and support to areas of the highest level of need, was used as a basis to engage with people between 22 February and 29 April 2016.
Almost all of those who took part in the engagement exercise were users of Swindon libraries and the libraries most often used by respondents were Central, Highworth, North and West.
If the Council’s Cabinet approves the proposed library strategy and delivery model, an eight-week consultation will take place between August 1 and 30 September to allow library users and the public to provide their feedback on the proposals. This will include a number of public meetings and engagement events across the borough, including in all libraries.
At the same time as consultation, the Council will actively seek, encourage and support the development of local arrangements that ensure local library services are maintained, which the £500,000 transitional funding can support.
The core provision would then be implemented between April and July next year with funding for the remainder of the library service being withdrawn from next June.
Discussions will take place with ward councillors, local partners, community organisations, and local residents to identify and initiate local interest in establishing the provision of community-led services, with a view to local solutions taking effect from 1st July 2017. This includes “exploratory discussions” currently underway with existing parish councils and other community and commercial groups regarding their potential management of the libraries in their area.
Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “We are extremely fortunate in Swindon to have such a large number of libraries, but with an increasing amount of our budget being spent on vulnerable people in our community we cannot go on as we are.
“The core network proposed in the library strategy will ensure 85 per cent of households will live less than two miles from a library and that figure will increase further as we are intent on working with the community to develop ways of enhancing the library provision.
“The public engagement exercise showed what people value most about their local library and this strategy, if supported by the Council’s Cabinet, will allow us to provide an innovative service in locations that best meet the needs of local people.”