CHANGES are on the way for a service which caters for the reading needs of thousands of book-lovers in remote towns and villages.
A major review is being carried out of the county’s mobile libraries in a bid to save £50,000, while making the service more efficient, and cost-effective.
About 4,500 people are registered for the service – which involves a small fleet of vans bringing books to rural communities – but council bosses say a significant percentage of them are not using it regularly.
Now it is planned to reduce the number of mobile library vans from four to three and reorganise routes and timetables to rationalise the service and make it better and more consistent.
A consultation exercise started this week will run until December 30 to seek the views of library users and the public on the proposed changes, some of which were recommended in a review of the whole public library service last year.
The views of existing customers of the mobile service have already been used to draw up the proposed new routes and timetables.
Although the fleet of vans is being cut from four to three, a new vehicle has recently been bought, which council bosses believe will make the service more reliable and less prone to breakdowns.
Yesterday Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the opposition Conservative group on the county council, said: “We have been fiercely protective of the mobile library service because it has been under threat at every budget for some time. There is nothing wrong with having a review but we would have concerns about any reductions in the service, and would want to see the current levels maintained, with regular visits to smaller communities.
“We also see the library vans providing other council services, as well as books, and acting as a mobile point of contact for people in remote areas.”
Coun Neil Bradbury, executive member responsible for libraries, said: “We are trying to achieve a £50,000 budget saving through this review, but it should not be looked upon as just a cut, because we have invested in a new library van. Similar to what we did with bin collection routes, we are looking to reorganise and improve the mobile library routes.
“I really hope that people will not see any reduction in the front-line service. Everyone will continue to have access to the service, although I can’t guarantee that it will be in the same location.
“We know, for example, that in some areas the service operates weekly and in other areas it operates on a three-week rota. There is also a large discrepancy in the length of time the vehicles stop in each location.
“We feel there is scope to revise the timetable and make the savings required, without detriment to the service. The ultimate aim is to create a better and more consistent service for all of users, and safeguard its long-term future.”
Proposed changes include making stops more frequent, and in some cases, longer than they currently are; axing any current stops which are a mile or less from a static library and introducing a single, two-weekly timetable for all routes, running from Tuesday to Saturday between the hours of 9.30am and 6.30pm.
It is hoped extending the timetables to include evenings and weekends will enable more people to access the service.
Anyone who wants to find out more about the proposed changes, and how to make their views known, should log on to www.northumberland.gov.uk/mobilelibraries, or speak to their mobile library diver or local librarian.