Birmingham City Council has today (October 10) set out plans to work with partners to retain 35 of the 37 community libraries in an operating model designed to give the service a long-term sustainable future in the city.
It is hoped that through an extensive three-month consultation period the council will also be able to find ways to enhance the library service offer further still by setting out a new grant system to support groups wanting to set up new schemes to loan books, offer internet access and other services needed locally.
Despite the need to make substantial savings targets as a result of reduced central government funding to local authorities, the new proposals also include investment in more efficient self-service technology for library users, with the other package of proposals enabling 95 per cent of existing libraries in the city to be retained for communities to use.
Under the plans, each of the city’s 37 community libraries (not including the Library of Birmingham) have been graded against a series of 11 criteria and given Tier 1, 2 or 3 status, broken down as follows:
- Tier 1 sites (19 in total) would be open for 35 hrs per week, likely to be delivered from the existing sites and have other services (e.g benefits verification) delivered from them too.
- Tier 2 sites (10 in total) would be open for 21 hours per week, likely to be delivered from the current library buildings, although options may exist to increase hours of operation by working with partners.
- Tier 3 sites (6 in total) would be run by community organisations, from either their own premises or via a facility transferred to them by the council. The library service will offer support through a 15-hour worker and the provision of books and investment in self-service equipment.
- A further group (Tier 4) is also proposed, under the heading of Community Initiated Library Services, through which any local scheme that increases access to one of the Society of Chief Librarians’ ‘universal offers (digital, learning, information, reading or health) would be considered for support via a small grants scheme
The proposals, underpinned by the roll out of self-service kiosks (which are now common place in most libraries elsewhere) have been in development since 2015, with the council looking at how other local authorities around the country have gone about making savings to this important service area.
Two sites (Aston and Sutton Coldfield) would close under the plans along with a reduction in staffing by 24 – down to a service run by 88 full-time equivalents. To mitigate the closures, investment would be made to increase hours at Mere Green (in respect of Sutton Coldfield) and to increase hours and the level of provision from Tier 2 to Tier 1 at Birchfield (in respect of Aston).
Cllr Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council said: “This is one of the most difficult consultations we will have to run, but the funding pressures and restrictions we face mean that no change is simply not an option.
“We need to look at libraries and how they can best operate in 2016 and beyond with the reduced resource available. The time has come to acknowledge that a one size fits all model isn’t the best way of delivering such a service.
“To do this, we are staging a genuine consultation based on plans that have been reviewed by best practice councils that have faced the same issues and expert groups from the library sector.”
As a result of ongoing funding reductions from central government, the service currently has a savings target of £1.4 million in 2016/17, rising to £1.95 million next year along with a range of historic pressures, mainly due to premises costs.
Cllr Ward added: “The plans we have put together would keep a robust library service operating over the broadest geographical range possible and give community groups with a passion for libraries a great chance to step up and deliver and shape plans that are relevant for their own local needs.
“I cannot stress enough this is a genuine consultation and if anyone has any ideas or offers to work with us, now is the time to let us know.”
The exact consultation dates will be finalised once the proposals go through the Cabinet approval process next week (October 18).
Notes to editors
Birmingham currently has 37 community libraries although West Heath Library is temporarily closed and Bloomsbury is served via a temporary static facility.
The consultation document can be found here: