Cafés could help to keep libraries open, council told

CAFÉS should be opened in south east Northumberland’s libraries in a bid to generate cash to make them more viable, councillors have suggested.

A review of library services was started by Northumberland County Council in 2009, and London-based consultancy firm Shared Intelligence was hired to help develop a plan to make the service more efficient.

As a result of those moves, a seven-point action plan was drawn up, including expanding the role of libraries, assessing whether current buildings are sustainable, changing stock management arrangements, re-designing the council’s libraries website and reviewing the routes used by mobile services.

Now the council is starting to put that plan into action and is working on merging its library service with its registration and customer service departments.

However, some councillors say those proposals do not go far enough.

Coun Barrie Crowther, pictured, of Cramlington, told a meeting of the authority’s communities and place scrutiny committee: “This report is not radical enough.

“It says that local authorities have an obligation to provide an effective library service, but nowhere does it mention charging for libraries.

“I’m not putting that forward, but in Germany people are charged for libraries.

“There is nothing to say let’s do some experiment with libraries. Let’s put a café in and other services in and see if that works.”

Coun Peter Jackson, of Ponteland, agreed that more could be done to generate income.

“What this report might include is much more innovative ways of using facilities and trying to get some income in terms of bringing in some coffee houses,” he said.

“In other parts of the country, that has been very successful indeed. I would like us to be going down that line.”

He also called for a review of management arrangements before any cuts to front-line services are considered.

“I have seen the figures over a number of years, and we do have very large management overheads in the library service,” he said.

“This is a significant proportion of the costs of running the service. I would like to have a much-reduced spend on that before we start closing rural libraries or library services.”

Committee chairman Glen Sanderson, of Chevington, said: “We feel it is really important for the sake of clarity and transparency that there should be a sounding board of members.

“To have no input whatsoever from a sounding board is totally unacceptable.

“If you look at the section on libraries on the website, you will see that every one of them is closed at least one day a week.

“Where is the modernity? Where is the forward thinking and the sparking of ideas?

“We hoped to be able to put these things forward to a sounding board, but we haven’t been allowed to set them down.

“We are all getting very frustrated.”

Coun Neil Bradbury, the council’s executive member for customer relations and culture, promised that no plans are being drawn up to cut services and said a sounding board to discuss the review would be set up soon.

“There is total commitment from me about getting these sounding boards working over the summer,” said Coun Bradbury, of Prudhoe.

“This is not about deciding which libraries are unsustainable and will be axed. It is about making sure there will be a library service in all our communities and that it is sustainable.

“I don’t think anyone in the executive is in any doubt that we are not one of those councils that are going to cut libraries.”

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