Council chiefs look for community take over of libraries as part of planned service shake-up

Whitburn Library.
Whitburn Library.

Council bosses are looking for community groups to take over some of the borough's libraries as part of a planned shake-up of the service.

South Tyneside Council wants people to come forward and take over the running of the four branch libraries on a voluntary basis at Whitburn; East Boldon; Boldon Lane and Primrose.

Coun Alan Kerr, lead member for culture and leisure at South Tyneside Council.

Coun Alan Kerr, lead member for culture and leisure at South Tyneside Council.

The council plans to focus its library services from four modern multi- service ‘hubs’ and says that almost 80% of all items borrowed across the library service and 91% of all computer use takes place at such hubs.

They are The Word, (National Centre for the Written Word) ; Hebburn Central; Jarrow Hub and Cleadon Park.

The council says changes to the library service are required because it is facing 'unprecedented financial pressures' and is looking at providing quality services with resources it has available.

This can mean delivering services differently to reflect changing resident demands or focusing on fewer but better facilities from which to deliver them.

The council says library services in the borough will need to change if they are to meet demand and they plan to consult with residents over the summer months on such changes.

Coun Alan Kerr, lead member for culture and leisure at South Tyneside Council said: “The way that people use our libraries is changing and we must change with them.

"We are committed to delivering an affordable, sustainable, modern and efficient library service that meets the changing needs of our residents.

“We have come up with some proposals about what the borough’s library service could look like in the future and would like to hear what people think, or indeed, any alternative suggestions they may have.

“One thing is clear - any organisation losing almost 50% of its funding cannot afford to maintain the status quo.

"These funding cuts are set to continue and we must do all we can to protect vital services, like our library service, by delivering them in the most cost effective way.”

Working with the local communities the council will also consider the creation of library access/collection points where books that have been pre-booked on-line could be collected.

To protect the most vulnerable the council will also seek to extend the home reader library service.

The proposed service delivery model would be considerably more cost efficient, saving money while still delivering a quality offer to borough residents.

Coun Kerr added: “The council has to change the way we deliver services.

"Not all the changes have been popular, but it is only by working innovatively that we have managed to safeguard services in for the future.

“This is undoubtedly an unsettling time for our staff and service users.

"Discussions with trade unions and staff are ongoing and we will continue the dialogue with all parties affected throughout the consultation process.”

The strategy will be considered by South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet at their meeting on Wednesday, May 17.

If approved, a public consultation on the council’s proposals will start in June 2017 and run through until end August 2017.

Independent - Putting People First coun Lee Hughes was disappointed with the plans for library hubs.

He said: "It will be a big loss, particularly for Primrose as the library is near two junior schools.

"It has come at a time when we are trying to encourage reading and writing, so I think parents will be disappointed.

"Across the borough it will be a big loss as we have already felt the loss of some of our community centres and everything seems to be going in to centralised hubs.

"I think it will also cause problems for people who will now have to rely on public transport to get there.

"A lot of people use the libraries and I think it is a really important service to keep in the community."