New investment has been announced for Barnsley’s oldest district libraries in an attempt to prevent them being overshadowed by the prestigious new Light Box central branch currently under construction in the town centre.
The move will see modest but important spending to make the interiors of four libraries, which date from the 1960s and have inflexible interior space.
So fixed shelving racks will be replaced to allow the floorspace to be used in different configurations, reflecting the changing uses of libraries as numbers of books loaned continues to fall, but the number of visitors increases.
It will allow the space to be more easily used by community groups and others who now use the library buildings as community ‘hubs’, rather than their original one-dimensional use as a book loaning service.
Those at Worsbrough, Dodworth, Darfield and Thurnscoe are all of a similar age and have not had any investment for around a decade.
The move comes as Barnsley Council launches three months of consultation about the future of its whole library service, which needs to be modified to help the authority save money in line with the austerity cuts it has faced in Government funding, but also to provide a service which best meets the needs of today’s communities.
Because the service has to find £160,000 in savings it is proposed to reduce conventional staffed hours, though the buildings would then be available for community use on a ‘trusted key holder’ basis, allowing community groups and other organisations to make use of the premises outside public opening times.
While the Light Box will also see a reduction in its staffed hours, it is also proposed to put a system in place where the public would have limited access to the building outside full opening times for services such as book returns.
That would use a system which has been used successfully elsewhere in the country, relying on technology to provide security for the building and its users.
However, all potential changes are subject to the outcome of three months of public consultation, which begin on June 21.
It is expected that final decisions will be made early next year, after the results have been examined, with changes brought into effect from April 2019.
Wendy Lowder, the council’s executive director for communities, said: “We will suggest when we think the available staffed hours should be but will offer the opportunity to state alternatives and set out the rationale as to why.
“We will analyse all of that, to tell us whether we need to make fundamental changes.”
Coun Jenny Platt said: “We are taking our time to look at it and to try to get it right, to listen to what people are telling us, whether we have the right idea with the reduced hours. If they come up with something else, we can look at that.”
The consultation will be available online at the council’s website, with paper copies in library branches.