'No closures' for libraries as 'ambitious' plan reaches next stage

AN 'ambitious' council document on the future of Dorset's libraries has reached the next stage. <i>(Image: Dorset Council)</i>
AN 'ambitious' council document on the future of Dorset's libraries has reached the next stage. (Image: Dorset Council)

AN 'ambitious' council document on the future of Dorset's libraries has reached the next stage.

Dorset Council has published its draft library strategy which sets out how library services will be delivered across the county over the next decade.

The report has received more than 12,000 responses from residents, and the local authority says that 'no branch closures' are planned.

It added that there will be a reduction of one hour across its network of 23 libraries if the document gets the green light.

The strategy will go to a joint overview committee meeting on Wednesday, June 7 for review before being presented to cabinet for final approval this summer.

Dorset Council says that the report is 'shaped by user demand' and follows two rounds of public consultation.

The first consultation sought the views of library users and non-users to understand how the service could better meet the needs of Dorset residents, which helped to form the draft document.

The second asked respondents to share their views on the draft strategy and proposed a new model, with libraries being placed in three categories:

  • Library (10 sites): open 18 hours across five days a week. (Beaminster, Corfe Mullen, Crossways, Lyme Regis, Lytchett Matravers, Sturminster Newton, Upton, Verwood, West Moors, Wyke Regis)

  • Library plus (eight sites): open 30 hours, across five days a week. (Gillingham, Littlemoor, Portland, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Swanage, Wareham, Wimborne)

  • Library Connect (five sites): open 42 hours across six days a week (Blandford, Bridport, Dorchester, Ferndown, Weymouth)

The council says that this proposed model has been 'designed on where the facilities are based' - so that if one library is closed at a specific time there will be another open nearby.

This has resulted in a reduction of only one hour across the entire network of the 23 Dorset Council-managed libraries.

The local authority says in the report that library behaviours and trends have 'changed significantly' over the past seven years which has been put down to the pandemic and 'customer preferences'.

It claims that physical library use has declined since 2016 by between 16 per cent and 44 per cent, while usage of online resources has increased by more than 470 per cent.

At present, two town and parish councils provide a financial contribution towards staffing and running costs at Sherborne and Lytchett Matravers libraries.

Dorset Council also trains people to provide volunteer-run library hours at three libraries - Beaminster, Crossways and Sturminster Newton.

It says that options as part of the strategy include following these two models for other libraries across the county.

Cllr Laura Beddow, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for culture and communities, said:  "Libraries are at the heart of our communities and the draft strategy sets out how they will remain as such whilst providing an enhanced offer.

"This is not the end of the conversation. We will continue to work closely with and listen to communities about their feelings towards our proposals.”

For more information on the draft strategy, click here.