‘Far reaching' shake-up of library service in Rotherham could be introduced next summer
A shake-up of Rotherham’s public libraries could be introduced next summer with the prospect of major changes that could include community volunteers becoming involved in running the network of branches, with no guarantees that closures will be avoided.
Councillors have been told a review of the £2.64m a year service will be “complex and far reaching” and will involve trade unions because there may be implications for the 78 staff members currently involved in running the branches.
Consultations will explore what level of appetite exists from the public and other organisations in “getting involved in supporting the delivery of library services”, though at this stage no specific options have been put forwards.
A report to councillors states, however, that six weeks of consultations, due to start soon, “will explore views on the range of alternative delivery options”, though the aim will be to safeguard the network of 15 branches, which include the town centre Riverside House outlet. That is not guaranteed, however.
Libraries have been a target for cuts during the austerity years nationally and the latest library strategy in Rotherham is to ensure the service meets the needs of users in future, the report states.
Councillors will now question council officers about the situation, at a meeting of the authority’s scrutiny board which meets on Wednesday, with a follow-up report on progress then expected to go before the authority’s ruling Cabinet.
Numbers of visitors to libraries have been in decline over the last decade, but in Rotherham figures rose last year, at 616,387 people calling in, compared to 604,719 in the previous 12 months.
The total was still down on the 665,637 from two years previously, however.
Library users have access to the internet for free and one growth area has been in the use of electronic options, with numbers of people accessing ‘e’ magazines doubling in the space of two years, with sharp increases in the use of ‘e’ books and audio.
It is intended that changes will be introduced in August next year, but that timescale may have to be extended.
The report to the scrutiny panel states: “The initial programme of engagement will explore views on the range of alternative service delivery options; the right one for Rotherham will be dependent on the community needs and priorities.
“In line with previous consultation feedback, it is intended that any future option will look to deliver comprehensive, effective and efficient services, to improve access to current and additional services and to avoid, where possible, the closure of libraries.”
At present, the library achieves public satisfaction levels described as “exceptional” at more than 99 per cent.
The first round of consultations, if approved, would take place over six weeks with the public as well as other organisations with an interest in how the service operates.
Councillors have been told the objective is to find a “sustainable model” which meets the needs of users.
“Consultation would also assess the potential in relation to different service models and help the council understand the interest from the community and local partnerships in relation to getting involved in supporting the delivery of library services.”
Consultations are expected to involve drop in sessions at library branches, with other focus groups to take place with schools, parish councils,Voluntary Action Rotherham and other organisations.
There will also be consultations with those who do not make use of libraries.
The report states: “Any investment proposals or cost implications that may result from the analysis of the consultation feedback will be subject to future reports.
“It is possible that library staff may be affected by any future proposal and as such early discussions have begun with trade unions. Any resulting proposed operational changes will be undertaken in full consultation with employees and trade union representatives.”