A wide-ranging strategy to create a modern, vibrant and sustainable library service in Wolverhampton will be presented to councillors next week.
The City of Wolverhampton Council's Transforming Libraries Strategy 2017-2027 seeks to maintain and modernise Wolverhampton's 16-strong branch network while further improving library provision in the City.
More than 1,300 people took part in periods of engagement and consultation to help shape the strategy, which will go before Cabinet next Wednesday (19 July, 2017).
It sets out how the City of Wolverhampton Council will deliver local and national priorities against a background of changing demands and customer needs, with the key aims of supporting reading and literacy; promoting learning and improving skills; increasing the use of digital services; promoting and enabling health and wellbeing; widening access to quality information; and broadening access to culture.
Councillor John Reynolds, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in shaping this ambitious strategy for our libraries.
“Like most places in the country, the way customers use Wolverhampton’s libraries has been changing in recent years.
"Our analysis has shown that although there are fewer active borrower and book loans, there was a 12% increase in visitors to our libraries last year with more people instead coming to use PCs or take part in events. This strategy aims to ensure that Wolverhampton's libraries will continue to meet customers’ changing needs.”
The draft libraries strategy was subject to a formal 12-week period of consultation earlier this year, with more than 830 people having their say either online or by taking part in public events.
The consultation found residents were very supportive of the City’s libraries and the current service provided, and the vast majority backed the council's vision for the future of the service. Nearly two-thirds of those asked said they were interested in attending and taking part in events and activities in the libraries.
Over half of respondents supported increased opening hours across the library service, and thanks to the support of community associations it has already been possible to extend opening hours at the libraries within Ashmore Park and Long Knowle community hubs, by providing additional "self-service" periods at times when the community hubs are open. This in in addition to, and not replacing, the normal periods when libraries are staffed.
It means that, from 31 July, Ashmore Park Library will also be open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am-1pm and Long Knowle Library will also open from 12.30pm-3.30pm on Wednesdays, representing a 25% and 20% increase in opening hours respectively.
In addition, following discussion with volunteers at Collingwood Library, amended opening hours will be in operation from the end of the month, while consultation is underway with Low Hill Community Association about the possibility of increasing library opening hours through more self-service provision.
Comments received about opening hours will be used to inform wider service developments in the future.
Following feedback, the council will continue to support older technology such as DVDs and CDs, alongside investing in new emerging technologies such as ebooks, talking books and digitised collections, and will introduce a two-hour limit on the free use of PCs from 31 July, followed by a charge of £1 per hour thereafter, in order to reduce waiting times for library customers wishing to access a computer.
People were also asked for their opinion on the location of Bilston Library, which is currently located with Bilston Craft Gallery at Mount Pleasant.
Views were mixed, with 26.3% of those who responded saying it should remain where it is, and a similar number saying it should move to Bilston Town Hall or another location. A quarter did not express an opinion either way. In order to explore the issue more fully, Cabinet will be asked to consider the findings of a more detailed feasibility study in due course.
Councillor Reynolds added: "At a time when library services in other parts of the country are being cut back, this 10-year strategy outlines our clear commitment to developing and maintaining a thriving library network here in Wolverhampton – one that meets the needs of customers today, and in the future.”