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Library Strategy to transform services to the public

Bringing the St Helens Library back to the Gamble is one of the key aims of a new five-year Library Strategy which will transform the service to deliver what people want and need.

The Gamble building with trees framing the building

Article date: 5th July 2022

The new Library Strategy, which is set to go before Cabinet next week, lays out how the service will radically transform from a traditional service delivered from unfit buildings to a service that is fit for the future, accessible and inspiring. The Library Strategy vision is to create a modern St Helens Library Service that is inclusive, vibrant, modern, excellent, responsive to customer needs and at the heart of communities. 

The strategy has drawn on consultation feedback and the council's locality model to set out how it will support those most in need. It will reduce the number of traditional buildings that the service is delivered from, it will increase outreach work in areas where take up of traditional library offerings has been low, and it will capitalise on those new or enhanced services introduced during the pandemic such as home delivery and the digital offer.   

The service will continue to build on its strengths such as the St Helens Schools Library Service, that makes sure that children across the borough have access to books, which is already used by 75 per cent of schools.   

Councillor Anthony Burns, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Culture and Heritage, said: "Library services have always been a corner stone of social mobility, providing support for all ages to learn and access information. We want to make sure our offer continues to be that pillar of support and plays a key role in helping to deliver the council's priorities specially to tackle inequalities and inspire our communities. To do this we recognise that we need to radically change and transform, our aim is to deliver great services to those that need them the most.   

"The world is changing, and people rely more and more on digital ways of connecting. The number of people who use libraries in a traditional way visiting a bricks and mortar building has been falling for years, so we need to change. During the pandemic, while the buildings were closed, the library offer was still incredibly popular with people and the service adapted and found new ways to provide service to customers through home delivery and an extensive digital service providing access to thousands of books and magazines at any time of the day or night.   

"This new Library Strategy builds on this learning and sets out our vision for the future. It will make sure that the library offer continues to meet the needs of residents, but more importantly it will ensure that we innovate and actively target people who may benefit most from the library offer but don't currently engage with our traditional library buildings. The introduction of pop-up libraries and computer access in local community hubs will bring our services directly into the heart of our communities."

In these challenging financial times and in the face of reducing central government grants it is essential that council services are efficient and cost effective.

A key part of the new strategy is to seek to work with communities to pursue alternative options for library services such as community managed libraries, book borrowing or computer access at community venues. The council is in talks with community groups and parish councils across the borough to make these aspirations into a reality. 

The strategy sets out how the council will deliver its library service from buildings in Chester Lane, Eccleston, Haydock, Moss Bank, Newton le Willows, St Helens town centre and Thatto Heath. 

The strategy proposes the closure of council-run library buildings in Billinge, Garswood, Parr, Peter Street, Rainford and Rainhill but commits to offering improved outreach services, digital services, community managed facilities, pop-up and book borrowing in these communities instead.  

Councillor Burns added: "Whilst Cabinet may decide to close some library buildings, we're clear that every resident will still have access to a high-quality library service. In those areas where a building is closing, if residents or organisations would like to maintain a physical library building then we encourage anyone interested in finding out more about community managed libraries to please get in touch with us. The council is ready to offer support with everything from volunteering to grant funding application. We have already started conversations with organisations such as parish councils in those areas where buildings are closing, and we will continue those discussions in the weeks and months ahead." 

The Library Strategy is set to be discussed at Cabinet on Wednesday 13 July.