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Libraries fit for the future and a fit with people’s lives

15 November 2018

A vision of a library service available on-line 24-7 to fit with people's lives in Essex is to be considered by the County Council.

Residents will be asked for their say in a major consultation on the plans, which will be considered by the Council's Cabinet next week.

Traditional library use in Essex has collapsed in the last ten years.

There are 31% fewer people using Essex libraries now than there were in 2008 – over 100,000 less users – and loans of books and other items are down by 52%.

At the same time, use of the e-library service, including e-book loans and online reservations, has more than doubled since 2013.

Essex has the second-highest number of libraries in the UK and is in the top-five counties nationally for spending on libraries – but with increasing costs and declining usage, especially at some smaller libraries, the service is no longer viable in its current form.

Demand for e-books, e-magazines and e-audio rose has risen by 205% over five years, from 61,000 loans to 186,000, with demand expected to continue to grow. 85% of adults now own a smartphone and one in ten use a tablet or similar screen every day.

The consultation sets out a vision of modern library service, fit for now and in the future. The future draft proposals aim to build online library services, with fewer, but better libraries and more community-run libraries.

Cllr Susan Barker, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, said: “We want to create a library service with a wider appeal, which is more relevant to and a better fit with people's lives – one which is online 24-7, is faster, and offers users more choice.

“We believe library services play a unique role in society for reading, learning, digital access and culture.

“Society has changed; libraries are not used by the majority of our residents. And of those residents who are library users, only one in five is an active library user*.

“Technology has transformed how people read books and access information and entertainment, which is why we must look critically at our current library locations and respond to these changes.

“We want to introduce better library spaces where we do have them - smart, modern and comfortable – and where, for instance, you might be able to swipe in using a smart card, pick up parcels or bring your toddlers for rhyme time.

“We also have to make sure that we continue to offer value for money. That may mean some libraries are not viable. But if that is the case, we want to talk to communities about how they can become involved and run a library service with our support. The consultation is the opportunity to feedback on our plans and make sure that views are heard and considered."

The consultation into the future of Essex libraries launches on November 29 2018 and lasts 12 weeks through to 20 February 2019.

Findings will be published and any changes proposed considered in June 2019.

Drop in sessions will be held at every local library providing an opportunity to ask questions, complete the consultation and find out more.

Alternatively visit the website from 29 November for further information or to complete the consultation online.

*People who have used their library card in the last year.