We’ve listened to the people who are passionate about Plymouth’s libraries – that’s the message from the City Council as it launches its revised Plan for Libraries.
Following a comprehensive consultation, the new plan is to be presented to the Cabinet on 20 June. While the new plan still delivers original proposals, it also sets out how it will meet the ongoing and future challenges the service faces by:
• Investing over £250,000 in modernising the service, including redeveloping the St Budeaux site
• Keeping open an additional four libraries: Efford, Estover, North Prospect and Peverell
• Providing an outreach service in areas where a library is closing, which will also cover areas of the city that had no library provision before, such as Whitleigh
• Enhancing the online service
Council Leader Ian Bowyer said: “We have said all along that libraries are about more than just books and that the service should not be constrained by buildings that are no longer being visited in the way they were before the internet and the digital revolution.
“While other councils have responded to this change by closing libraries down on a wholesale basis or reducing hours, we have listened to the swell of public opinion and will continue to invest in modernising the service and keeping more of the better used ones open.
“Our original plan set out a very clear vision that Plymouth libraries will deliver modern services that inspire learning and creativity, improve health and wellbeing, and support digital inclusion. This plan will make this happen.
“We faced criticism about the original plan being a done deal – but this revised plan shows that was far from the case.”
Over 12 weeks the Council carried out a comprehensive consultation with over 3,700 responses to the original Plan for Libraries proposals. Over 150 stakeholders including primary, secondary and other educational providers were contacted to encourage them to take part in the consultation; over 370 people were spoken to at 20 public sessions.
The Council also received 183 letters, 61 emails, 51 comments on social media and 2,317 signatures on six petitions.
The changes proposed will lessen the original impact on active users from 20 per cent to just over six per cent. The Council has always maintained that if people cannot access an alternative library, the service would look to be more flexible and work with the communities to provide activities.
The Plan for Libraries describes activities for the next three years and the steps the Council will take to continue with its vision. Despite significant financial constraints, the plan commits to invest in the future of the library service to ensure buildings, technology and resources are fit for purpose now and into the future.
Statistics show that just seven of 17 libraries currently account for 80 per cent of all library visits and 75 per cent of all items borrowed.
Assistant Director of Customer Services Faye Batchelor-Hambleton said: “Operating 17 libraries across the city is unsustainable and limits our ability to offer the high quality of service we want for Plymouth’s residents. We must not be constrained by a building; we want to use our resources better and take our services into the community. We want to reach new audiences who don’t currently use libraries but could benefit from what we offer.
“We will always be about books and reading and customers expect us to offer our service in a way they prefer, whether printed books, eBooks or audio-books. Requesting a book and being able to collect it at a new local ‘click and collect’ location will be more convenient for our customers. More eBooks are borrowed each year than printed books from 10 of our libraries so we will enhance our 24/7 online service for those embracing the digital world.
“Just as importantly we’re here to help those who lack IT skills or have no internet access as home. We’ll improve our service in libraries to provide more free computer and Wi-Fi access and have skilled staff on hand to support users to access services, find information or to seek employment.”
The opening of Central Library in the city centre in 2016, which doubled new membership and increased visitor numbers compared to the previous year, illustrated the positive response from the public to modern and flexible spaces with access to digital services and advice and guidance in areas such as employment and health.
She added: “During the consultation, communities told us they value their library buildings as community hubs and of their desire to better support the service. We look forward to working more closely with these communities as part of the updated plan.”
The updated Plan for Libraries will be considered at Full Council on 3 July.