LIBRARY users in Reading can expect to see a number of changes to the way the service is delivered starting this month and into October, including a reduction in opening hours.
Unlike many local authority areas where libraries have been permanently shut due to budget pressures, the Council is keeping all of its seven library branches open. However, in order to keep the service sustainable for the future, library opening hours have been reduced in six of the seven branches to contribute to an estimated saving of £212,000.
From today, Monday 17th September, Whitley Library, which is now part of the new South Reading Community Hub in Northumberland Avenue, will close on Fridays. All other opening times at this location remain unchanged.
In October, opening times will also change at five other library branches. From Monday 15th October 2018:
· Central Library will be closed Wednesdays and will close at 3pm on Saturdays;
· Caversham Library will close on Wednesdays;
· Battle Library will close at 12 noon on Fridays;
· Tilehurst Library will close at 12 noon on Tuesdays;
· Palmer Park will close at 5pm on Tuesdays.
All other opening times at these locations remain unchanged. For full opening times, visit: www.reading.gov.uk/librarybranches
To lessen the impact of the reduced opening hours on users, a book drop facility will be installed outside Caversham, Tilehurst, Battle and Palmer Park libraries so that books can be returned outside of opening hours. Central Library already has this facility.
Southcote Library will temporarily close from 1pm on 29th September, ready for its move to a new space in Southcote Community Hub on 16th October. The Toy Library has also temporarily closed and will reopen at Central Library in October.
Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “These are the second set of major savings to library services in Reading in two years, but unlike many local authorities’ areas, we are not shutting any of the seven branches.
“The revised changes, as far as possible in the light of our difficult budget decisions, take on board the concerns expressed on the impact of reduced opening hours and presents an option we feel meets the varied needs our library users. We have also listened to the users of Palmer Park Library and included a revised timetable that allows for Saturday openings.
“We know that people who use libraries continue to value them. We will continue to offer a wide range of events – including our much loved free rhymetimes and storytimes, across our libraries, which we know are very much appreciated by residents.
“Our approach is to keep all branches open by making the best possible use of limited resources. As well as the reduction in opening hours, we will be making better use of space by allowing external organisations or community groups to use Battle or Tilehurst.
“None of these decisions are easy but the reality is that for as long as the Government does not properly fund services like adults’ and children’s social care, it is services like libraries which will face the brunt of the cuts. That is the picture across the whole country.”
All the revised opening hours were agreed at Policy Committee on Monday 16th July. Palmer Park library will remain open on a Saturday from 10am to 1pm, after an amendment by Councillor Tony Jones, which was agreed.
Palmer Park library, which is the lowest ranked branch catchment area for demographic need, will continue to be operated in partnership with Reading College. The library will continue to open year round during both college term times and holidays.
Late nights are retained at six of the seven library sites, including two late nights at Central Library, with Saturday provision across all library sites. Mondays and Thursdays see no change and Central Library opens for 37 rather than the 36 hours proposed during the consultation, for the same saving. The opening hours at Battle and Whitley and Palmer Park library have been revised following consultation feedback to ensure some key times people were most worried about losing are now open.
As well as reduced opening hours, the changes will include allowing external organisations to move in and share space at both Tilehurst Library and Battle Library, once this has been extended this year.
The report to Policy on 16th July can be viewed here: www.reading.gov.uk/media/9103/Item-13/pdf/item13.pdf
The changes followed a review and feedback from a four week library consultation, which ran from 21 February 2018. A total of 1,332 responses were received.
Consultation feedback primarily centred on the impact of reduced opening hours and the illustrative opening hours shared during the consultation process. Respondents subsequently offered a number of suggestions around opening hours to reduce any negative impacts of changes.
When considering how to find the savings needed, some of the most common suggestions from the public were: asking for donations for participating in library activities, sharing space with other services or partner organisations and using volunteers to a greater extent.
Reading Borough Council is one of many local authorities with little option but to continue to make difficult budget decisions in order to balance the budget, which it has to by law.
The cost of caring for and protecting the most vulnerable adults and children in Reading is expected to rise by more than £10 million this year, but very little new funding has been provided by Government in 2018/19 to cope with the rising demand. This means that the Council has to seek further savings across services.
Government funding for Reading will have been cut from nearly £58 million between 2010 and 2020, leaving the Council with a Government grant of under £2 million. This may be removed entirely by 2020 and there still remains little clarity on how Government will fund local authorities beyond that point.