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Libraries plan approved

Proposals to use more volunteers in Staffordshire’s library system have been approved.

Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet has passed plans for four more libraries to be offered for community management and to pilot the introduction of self-service technology to extend opening hours.

Cabinet members heard that following a three month public consultation earlier this year, 16 groups have expressed an interest in taking on one of the next four community managed libraries, while 445 more people said they were willing to volunteer at their local library, to add to the 830 who already do so regularly.

Gill Heath, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Communities, said:

We know from the experience of recent years that the enthusiasm, energy and ideas of the management groups, combined with the comprehensive support we provide, has made the community-managed approach a success.”

Of Staffordshire’s 43 libraries, 22 are already community managed libraries. The four now intended to follow the same path are at Cheadle, Clayton, Eccleshall and Penkridge.

Under community management agreements, groups take on the management and day-to-day running of the building and its library offer, while the council remains responsible for agreed utility bills and maintenance costs.

Stafford’s main library in the town centre is also earmarked for the introduction of a self-service technology pilot scheme to extend opening hours – and this option may also be used at Penkridge if it doesn’t become a community managed library.

The self-service pilot would allow registered users access to the building outside core staffed hours, but no library would become completely self-service.

Although overall use is declining in line with national trends, Staffordshire’s library service still reaches a third of the county’s population and has 2.8 million visits a year, with 2.2 million items loaned.

Gill Heath said:

The way many people read for pleasure has changed for good and the way they use libraries has changed too.

We are working hard with communities to meet that challenge by allowing libraries to evolve and expand on their core service by providing whatever management groups think is needed locally.”

The tendering process for community managed libraries will officially begin in the autumn, while it’s hoped that the self-service pilot will begin in April next year, along with changes to the mobile and travelling service.

Cabinet also noted that a new partner is being sought to take on the day-to-day management of Cheslyn Hay library after a previous agreement failed to progress. If a new partner is not found by April 2019 it was accepted that the county council may consult on closing the library there.

Successful community library management organisations include local groups, a health trust, a church, Rotarians and a business enterprise group. One group, the Werrington Community Volunteer Group, has just received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of the MBE for voluntary groups.