One of the exciting and satisfying parts of being a councillor is being able to make a positive difference to people’s lives. The library service is clearly very important to people as the results of our consultation process have shown. Lots of good ideas have come out of this consultation, not just from the public, but also from officers and councillors. We are listening.
We all know budgets are under real threat but one of our jobs is to make judgements about the relative merit of each pound spent to get the greatest “Good” for the people of Cambridgeshire.
When I became Leader of the Council I asked what a library service fit for the 21st century might look like if the budget was not a constraint. I was concerned that people of working age were not using the service, often because they were at work or too tired when they get home to go out again to a library. I was also worried that the library service might need to be at the very heart of some of our community focused work. How could technology help? Can communities access library services when they want them?
I read constantly and love books. Yet the library service, as good as it is now, doesn’t fit in with my way of working. Now, if I could order a book online and it arrive in the post and I could post it back or leave it at a drop off point that would work for me. I would also love to “borrow” Ebooks for a modest charge. We are used to accessing other services, out of hours, so why not the library.
Building on the library review and some research on different parts of the world and a desire to build community hubs a small team have come up with an exciting way forward. Key to success was to change our thinking about how budgets work. Rather than the old fashioned need to save money line by line we encouraged thinking that would make savings, but not necessarily in that dept. Moving from thinking in silos to taking an overall approach brought some really good thinking. In practice this might mean the library budget cuts are not achieved but extra savings can be made in children’s services if some services are co-located with a library.
We will be working with all communities to listen to them and to agree what a library service might look like on a community by community basis. This will not just be the 13 libraries currently under review but all libraries to see how things can be improved and money saved.
The current 13 communities, currently being reviewed, can be assured of a relevant library service in their communities. It might be delivered in a different way and may even be an improved service with more accessible hours. It might not be in the existing building. We will work with the communities to decide how.
We know that communities are happy to engage with us in innovative ways to deliver the service. We have also learnt that more joined up thinking between parts of our own organisation, with partners and the private sector will produce a better outcome and save money.
So what are we considering?
Different categories of libraries depending on community need,
Better use of data on book choice to provide books the communities want,
Joint location of other services in libraries,
Library services being provided in other organisations buildings,
Online ordering of books with pick up and drop off points,
Book vending machines in stations, park and ride sites and bus stops,
Greater commercialisation of the service,
A love film type service for books,
Shared back office functions,
Better use of county transport to move books around, not just the library delivery service.
We are still early in our thinking and it is possible that not all these options will be possible for reasons beyond our control. However, we have the ambition to create a vibrant, relevant library service, fit for the 21st century and are prepared to explore new ways of doing business to achieve it.