Residents to have their say on library opening hour changes

Cllr Chris DowlingCHANGES to the opening hours of libraries in East Sussex will go out to public consultation, council leaders have agreed.

From January, East Sussex County Council will be asking residents to have their say on proposals to reduce opening hours across all 24 libraries by around 25 per cent on average, in a bid to make annual savings of around £500,000 from the running costs of the county’s libraries.

The authority needs to make savings of up to £90million over the next three years and is reviewing the way in which all services are delivered.  As part of this review, a savings target of £2million has been identified in the library service over the same period.

“We continue to face some extremely difficult decisions as we look at ways to deliver these unprecedented savings,” said Cllr Chris Dowling, lead member for community services.

“Making changes to the opening hours of libraries across the county will help us achieve the necessary savings while ensuring that we can continue to provide a comprehensive service for residents.

“We also recognise the need to create a library service fit for the digital age, which reflects people’s changing lifestyle.”

The proposals are part of a wider transformation programme for the county’s libraries, which Cabinet approved on Tuesday.  They will make sure that the council can respond to the changing need for library services and ensure East Sussex has a modern and sustainable library service into the future.

It is proposed that all libraries in East Sussex will only be open between the hours of 10am and 5pm. However, libraries that currently open later than 5.30pm would retain one evening opening until 6pm, while those that open on a Saturday, will continue to do so.

No changes would be made to the e-library service, which allows members to access e-books and e-audiobooks and a range of free online reference material 24 hours a day. Members and non-members will still be able to make enquiries online or by phone 24 hours a day.

“These proposals have been drawn up with great consideration given to how and when libraries are used, with extensive information from our library data systems and surveys of our customers,” Cllr Dowling added.

“Data shows that 85 per cent of visits to libraries, use of library computers and wifi, loans, renewals and returns take place between 10am and 5pm.

“Usage of library buildings after 5pm is very low and by closing libraries at quieter times, we are much better placed to ensure that all 24 of our libraries are open when usage is greater.”

The county council will carry out a public consultation on the proposals from January 2016.  If changes to library opening hours are subsequently agreed by Cabinet, they are likely to come into effect in the autumn of 2016.

Details of how to take part in the consultation will be widely publicised in the New Year.

At its meeting on Tuesday, December 15, Cabinet also approved a wider review of the library service which would look at staffing levels and stock funds, among other measures to achieve the required savings.