SUNDERLAND CITY COUNCIL is beginning a second phase of consultation on the future shape of library services in the light of unprecedented cuts to its budget.
The council wants to hear from library users and non-library users alike as well as potential partners in the voluntary, community, public and private sectors.
Proposals being put forward include the further development of digital library services, which are continuing to grow in popularity, at the same time as looking to reduce the number of static libraries operated by the council.
The number of people visiting libraries in the city has halved in the last four years. At the same time the number of people accessing services digitally is continuing to rise. This reflects the situation nationally with fewer people using traditional library services.
The consultation asks people how strongly they support:
– Providing a city centre library and town centre libraries in Washington and Houghton
– Developing digital library services which includes access to the online catalogue, membership and renewals, e-books, e-audio books, e-magazines and a library app
– Continuing to provide the books at home service which takes books to people in their own homes if they have mobility problems or other health issues that prevent them visiting a library
– Providing a city centre library supported by community book collections and an outreach programme in local communities
– Seeking formal expressions of interest from community organisations and community groups to operate the remaining libraries as community venues which include a library offer
– Looking at the feasibility of open libraries which allow libraries to open with or without staff present
– Library services working more closely with libraries at the University of Sunderland and Sunderland College
Councillor John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Housing and Adult Services, said: “The proposed changes reflect the fact that we’ve seen unprecedented cuts to our budget since 2010 as a result of Government austerity measures and cost pressures.
“Over the same period the number of people visiting our libraries has fallen by more than half. In 2011/12 there were over a million visits to libraries. By 2015/16 this had dropped to just over 500,000.
“We recognise that people have changed their reading habits, partly because of the internet and ebooks, but also because books are now much cheaper than they used to be. What we’re looking at now is how we can deliver the best library services we possibly can to reflect these changing demands within the reduced budget we have available.
“Nationally and locally there aren’t as many people using traditional library services in the same way they once did and we need to continue evolving our own library service to reflect this. The consultation we held earlier this year demonstrated that more people are now accessing digital resources including eBooks on their phones and computers.
“The options we’re looking at in this consultation reflect this shift in the way people use libraries and the fall in demand at the same time as helping achieving the savings we need to make by 2020. This includes talking to community organisations to see if they’d be interested in operating libraries as community venues with a library offer. This approach has already been successful at the former Hendon library.
“We want to hear from as many people as possible, whether you use library services or not. Library services are- for everyone in the city, so we need to hear your views.”
People have until Monday 23 January to have their say on the proposals by completing the online survey at: http://bit.ly/2ja7NKA
Paper copies of the consultation will also be available from libraries.