Speed-dating helps libraries stay open

LIBRARIES are hosting unusual events such as speed-dating as they strive to keep open amid budget cuts.

Councils have found innovative ways to keep providing library services while managing a 28% budget cut announced in 2010, shows the Local Government Association study.

Match-making is just one unlikely additional service offered by libraries. Others include laying on music gigs, fashion shows and providing shop space for local entrepreneurs.

The full report, Local Solutions for Future Local Library Services, will be launched at the LGA annual conference at Birmingham ICC on 26-28 June.

Many libraries have become cultural hubs and centres offering access a range of council services, says the LGA report, as well as a place to borrow and read books, it says.

But creativity has not been able to plug every funding gap, leaving some councils with little alternative other than to close library branches.

It is inevitable that library budgets will face further cuts, the LGA report warns, making it harder to prevent more widespread reductions in local services reductions.

Flick Rea, who chairs the LGA culture, tourism and sport board, said libraries were striving to maintain services while saving money.

"Councils know libraries are among the most valued services they provide and the last couple of years have been tough for residents who've seen the axe hover above libraries they grew up with.

"Councillors and officers have been wrangling with near impossible decisions on how to keep local libraries going with a fraction of the budget while still providing frontline services."

In a bid to keep open, libraries were sharing locations with village halls, pubs, shops, churches, phone boxes, day care centres and tourist information centres.

In Rutland, for example, partnership working saw a library merge with a GP surgery to create the Ketton Library and Surgery Hub.

Libraries were also offering additional services.

Applying for benefits, housing, planning and registration, information on bin collections, and applying for bus passes and blue badges could now be done in many libraries.

Book borrowing and reading were still the key elements of a library but there had been a fantastic amount of creativity and ambition to modernise libraries, said Councillor Rea.

"There have been a lot of difficult decisions, but what's emerging is a picture of great innovation and diversity as local libraries evolve to suit the needs of different communities."

"However, we're only half-way through this spending review and there are still tough years ahead. There have already been library closures and many of these new projects are in their infancy."

Success was far from guaranteed when it came to keeping libraries open.

"It's vital government recognises that this record of innovation does not mean it can keep cutting funding and expect councils to work miracles, perpetually doing more with less.

"There's a critical mass and we're already stretched to the limit. Further cuts on top of those we're already managing could well result in library closures across much of the country."

In tough times, people needed easy access to advice about benefits, job seeking, business, training and health, as well as support with children and elderly relatives.

For a series of RSN Online case studies highlighting the provision of library services, click here.



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