Councillors will next week discuss proposals that would enable libraries across County Durham to remain open despite reductions in Government funding.
Durham County Council, which needs to make savings of £159.2m over the five years between 2011 and 2016, is proposing measures that will guarantee that no libraries have to close.
However, with the total number of visits to libraries having dropped over the past three years and the number of active users falling by four per cent, the council does need to respond to changing demand for library services.
Members of the authority’s Cabinet will, therefore, be asked to agree to a 12-week consultation on a number of changes, when they meet at County Hall on Wednesday February 8.
If given the go-ahead, the consultation would see library-users, staff and the general public asked for their views on proposals to retain the existing 12 town centre and 27 community library buildings, reduce opening hours and review the mobile library service.
Cllr Maria Plews, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, said: “We need to reduce spending on library services by £1.457m over the next four years while still providing a high quality service to residents.
“I am pleased that we have been able to put forward a strategy for the future of the service that enables all libraries to remain open but means we can make the required savings and address changing demand.
“We are confident that the changes we are proposing will enable us to offer a financially sustainable library network that is vibrant, modern and enjoyable to visit despite our reduced budget.”
The proposals reflect feedback received during an earlier consultation on library services in 2010 as well as the Public Library Service User survey for 2009/10 and a consultation last year on the council’s savings proposals prior to budget setting.
Library opening times currently vary from 21 hours per week in many smaller venues to 55.5 at Clayport, in Durham, with all open at least two evenings per week and on a Saturday morning.
The proposals would see the opening hours for all town centre libraries, excluding Clayport, reduced to a core of 36 hours per week, with community libraries operating a core of 20 hours per week.
Specific opening times for individual libraries would be determined in discussion with local communities to reflect local need, although it is expected that all would be open on Saturday mornings and one evening per week.
Changes are also being proposed to the mobile library service, which has seen membership fall from 7,800 in March 2008 to 3,538 in March 2011. The number of active borrowers now accounts for only 1.5 per cent of the total for the library service, making the mobile service significantly more expensive per visit than library buildings.
There are currently five mobile library vehicles, which visit 182 different communities over a two-week period, stopping at 380 halts.
Under the new strategy, it is proposed that the mobile library service will only visit communities at least four miles from a library building, with only one halt in each settlement the library visits. Halts would be withdrawn if they are not used.
Despite the overall reduction in funding for the service, capital has also been set aside to carry out much needed improvements to some of library buildings. The council will also continue to seek out opportunities to co-locate libraries with other services.
If given the go-ahead, the consultation will run from Friday February 10 to Friday May 4.