LIBRARY users in Northumberland are being given a better choice of books and improved internet access as part of an action plan aimed at making the service more sustainable and better able to enrich people’s lives.
Investment is taking place in providing greater reading choice, upgraded IT systems, improved access for rural communities and wider use of library buildings under a new vision for the “neglected” service, says a new report.
The report says that over the past year the county’s network of 34 libraries has benefited from:
A much-needed injection of new stock following a major book buying exercise to improve choice for readers.
A pilot project in the rural community of Belford which allows people to order books online or by phone, which are then delivered to a local community centre for collection.
Improved digital access and the ordering of new broadband lines to boost connectivity for computer users.
The creation of four “community hubs” at libraries in Berwick, Amble, Morpeth and Haltwhistle, where customers can get health information and advice to help them carry on living independently in their own homes.
Schemes in Wooler, Prudhoe, Bellingham and Cramlington which involve bringing together library and other services – such as tourist information – to provide better integration and access for local people.
The action plan was drawn up after consultants Shared Intelligence carried out a strategic review of the library service in 2010, in partnership with the county council and Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) North East.
It was aimed at developing a sustainable future for the service, which has been threatened with closures and cutbacks for several years because of massive pressures on the council’s budgets.
The review found that budget cuts in recent years had resulted in a network of libraries which doesn’t appear to be meeting the needs of local people.
Shared Intelligence said it was from discussions with users and staff, and examination of the figures, that the service has “been neglected for far too long”.
Now a progress report on the action plan over the last 12 months will be discussed by members of the council’s scrutiny committee next week.
Lorraine Dewison, service manager for libraries, says the book buying programme has received “very positive” feedback from customers and staff, and will be repeated in the spring.
In addition, there has been a 120% increase in usage of the council’s library web pages, after they were improved.
The Belford book point pilot will be fully evaluated this year, and a decision taken on whether to roll it out across the county.