Simon Cropper

Library hours cut in mid consultation

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Opening hours at Ross library are to be reduced by 17 per cent from next Monday. The move will cut opening times to a total of 42 and a half hours, down eight and three quarter hours from the current provision. Opening times for the customer service centre in the library building are to be cut by nine per cent, a reduction of four hours to a total of 40 and a half.

Similar reductions are being made at libraries and customer service centres across the rest of the county, and will come into effect just over two months after it was announced that spending on the county’s libraries could be cut by as much as 77 per cent, in a drive to cover a shortfall in Herefordshire Council’s budget. The council needs to make additional savings of £8.4 million this year, following an accounting error that was revealed in April.

It’s thought council managers have hinted that the reduced opening hours are a temporary measure, but their timing, ten days before the library service’s busiest month of the year, and more than a fortnight before the end of a five-week public consultation into the potential impact of changes to Herefordshire’s customer and library services, is likely to anger users and campaigners.

The public consultation consists of a four-page questionnaire, and library staff in Ross are urging users to take part. It was launched on Wednesday 3rd July, although not announced to local media until early this week, and must be obtained from a library or customer service centre. The council has defended the decision not to make it available online, saying it wishes to canvas the views of genuine users only.

In Tuesday’s press statement, cabinet member for enterprise and culture Councillor Roger Phillips said, “We want people who use libraries and customer service centres to tell us how some of the changes we are considering might affect them”, adding that public feedback will help the council “make an informed decision when options are presented to cabinet in September.”

Asked by the Dragonfly yesterday to explain why the forthcoming reductions in opening hours will take effect before the consultation has run its course, Councillor Phillips replied, “The current reduction in hours has been necessary to accommodate holiday time, staff leaving and the decision to stop taking on temporary staff.”

He gave no indication that the reductions will be temporary or permanent, but repeated an earlier council promise to keep libraries open in the county’s market towns, saying, “I remain committed to retaining Ross library, but we need a good discussion on opening hours that we can manage in our budget”.

Speaking to the Dragonfly this afternoon, one member of staff at Ross library described the reductions as “a kneejerk reaction to cuts in customer services”, and suggested that hours might be reduced further in the autumn.

The public consultation will run until Thursday 8th August, and the council says findings from the survey will be combined with a range of other data, and a report will be published on 12th September. It has also said that any changes to libraries will take into account the new ways people access services, notably online, and the modern-day requirements of a library.

Information about the county’s libraries can be found on Herefordshire Council’s website here. For more Dragonfly coverage of this story, click here.