Book reservation fees could be scrapped and services expanded at East Sussex’s libraries

Plans to improve libraries in East Sussex could see reservation fees being scrapped and services expanded.

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 2:24 pm
East Sussex County Council runs 17 libraries

Next week, Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment, is set to consider a report on updating the authority’s libraries commissioning strategy. 

This updated strategy includes plans to expand library services through a range of activities — such as children’s homework and code clubs — intended to support education, health, job prospects and digital inclusion.

Changes included in the updated strategy include plans to do away with reservation fees, making it so people can reserve books from across the council’s whole catalogue and collect them at their local library for free.

Current library locations

The strategy would also see the council expand its ‘Jobs Pod’ offer, which provides library users with a confidential space, a computer and support to take part in online job interviews. 

The council also intends to expand its Step into Reading adult literacy courses and its employment support services, which provide access to training, skills and qualifications, as well as help preparing for interviews, with a particular focus on 16– 24 year-olds.

Another outreach programme set for expansion is ‘IT for You at Home’ project, which sees the council loan out tablets and laptops to encourage digital inclusion. The council intends to procure up to 1,000 tablets and laptops and to continue building up a group of trained volunteers for the project.

As well as this, the council would expand its service providing free period products in libraries. 

While Cllr Dowling is set to make a formal decision on whether the council should adopt the updated strategy on Monday, a draft version of the document is publicly available and includes a foreword from her.

In it, she said, “This updated strategy sets out the path for the Library and Information Service for the next five years, taking into consideration the service’s ability to support residents’ needs with access to services in libraries, online and through community outreach that support reading and literacy, health and wellbeing, economic recovery and digital inclusion. 

“Significant progress has been made since the launch of the previous strategy in 2018. The service has reviewed this work and analysed how it can best support residents going forward, building on good practice and adding new service offers. 

“I am confident that the Library and Information Service will continue to deliver high quality services that support individuals and communities, particularly those with the greatest needs, with their literacy, attainment, employment, health and wellbeing. 

“These are needs which the Library and Information Service is ideally placed to help tackle.” 

As it stands the strategy would see the council maintain all 17 of its existing libraries with no changes to opening hours.

All 17 libraries will also continue offering free access to computers and Wi-Fi, as well as support in the form of ‘computer buddies’ and IT literacy courses.

However, the council says it is looking at how it uses its library buildings “to identify whether library services could be delivered in the same locality in a more cost-effective way.”

This could include the libraries using less space, allowing other parts of the building to be leased out, council documents say.

The council also says it there is a potential to move library services to “different locations” to “reduce costs or deliver a better service” at some point in the future, although no specific plans are referenced.

On top of its physical buildings and services, the council will continue to provide its eLibrary service, through which residents can download ebooks, magazines and audiobooks.