At Wednesday’s meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s Environment and Community Services Committee, councillors agreed the next stage of the libraries policy for implementation. This included agreeing for a number of libraries to be fitted with open access technology, allowing them to stay open for longer and making them accessible to people who work 9-5.
All 3 parties signed up to a £500,000 savings target before the 2015 election, recognising the need to make frontline services sustainable against a backdrop of financial pressure on local authorities. The Conservative group took on the challenge of finding these savings whilst looking to improve the service and, importantly without closing any libraries. With an innovative approach the solution found was open-access technology, where library users can use their membership card to access a library and use it even when it is unstaffed.
There have been challenges encountered and it will not be possible at this time to implement open access technology in Hanham, Kingswood, or Chipping Sodbury libraries. At Hanham there is an issue with fire safety, for disabled users cannot use the secondary exit which backs onto the car park, and therefore might not be safe to use the library outside of staffed hours. To address this there will need to be a ramp installed, but because of the steep drop and narrow space it is not yet known whether this is possible. Councillors and officers have committed to investigating this and if a solution can be found Hanham will have open access technology fitted.
Kingswood library will relocating into the Civic Centre and it is proposed that open access technology is installed after the move is completed.
Chipping Sodbury library has a number of issues with lease negotiations as the Council does not own the building. Because the library is also within a conservation area there are strict rules governing making physical changes to buildings. As such it is not proposed to install at this moment, but nothing is ruled out for the future.
Speaking of the policy, and of Labour and Liberal Democrat comments, Cllr Heather Goddard, Chair of Environment and Community Services said:
“The Labour group didn’t do their homework and made a recommendation to blindly spend taxpayers money on something that isn’t necessarily even possible. I want to see open access technology in Hanham library and have committed, along with officers, to investigating whether there is a sensible solution that will allow Hanham to benefit.
The majority of the public back our policy of open access technology and I look forward to opening libraries up to people who work, for whom libraries would be closed by the time they returned home.
We have been one of the most innovative councils on libraries and are one of very few who have proposed to roll out open access technology to such a large number of libraries at the same time. As well as this we have not only managed not to close a single library, but we are looking to open new community libraries as well, using Marshfield as a pilot. In addition to Marshfield we are also in discussions to potentially open community libraries in Pucklechurch, Hawkesbury Upton, Severn Beach, and Stoke Gifford.”