Shropshire Council’s Library services were reviewed two years ago. The conclusion of that review was that three tiers of library would be established: Tier 1 Library Hubs in Shrewsbury and larger market towns, including Ludlow; Tier 2 Community Libraries in the smaller market towns such as Church Stretton; and Tier 3 Community Libraries in smaller market towns such as Craven Arms. Rural areas would be served by mobile libraries with 281 stops in all.
The new library strategy was to last for five years. But just two years into its implementation, Shropshire Council has announced another review. The council does not give a straightforward reason for the review. Rather, it says “we identified the need for a refreshed strategy that offers a robust vision with clear priorities for the library service of the future.” Given how stretched staff are within the council, and how stretched its finances are, it is inevitable that people are wondering whether the review presages another round of cuts. Otherwise why allocate so much staff time?
The council says it is committed to retaining the three tier library structure. But it hasn’t said it is committed to keeping mobile libraries. There will be a drop in session in Ludlow Library from 10am to 3pm next Wednesday, 9 October.
The council is conducting a two stage consultation over the next three or four months on the future direction of libraries. The council’s cabinet will consider the outcomes of the review and make decisions in Spring 2020.
In the first stage, the council has posted an online survey to gather information on how people use libraries and what they most value (click the Get Involved tab). This survey closes on 8 November. It will only capture library users who are online. To back up the survey, council officers are hosting a series of drop in sessions to capture the views of walk in users of our libraries.
- Monday 7 October 10am to 3/4pm – Oswestry Library
- Tuesday 8 October 10am to 3pm – Bridgnorth Library
- Wednesday 9 October 10am to 3pm – Ludlow Library
- Thursday 10 October 10am to 3pm – Shrewsbury Library
- Friday 11 October – Whitchurch Library – 10am to 1pm and Market Drayton Library – 1pm to 4pm.
The first phase of consultation does not include mobile libraries. They seem to be out of sight and out of mind. Mobile libraries are vital in a rural county with poor public transport like Shropshire. We have a lot of library users living in rural areas who can’t get to the bricks and mortar libraries. Many will not be internet users and some may not be able to access the internet at all. It is wrong that this important group of library users are not being directly involved in this consultation. That’s one reason why I fear that the mobile library service is for the chop.
The second stage of the consultation takes place early next year. By then Shropshire Council will have drawn up its new library strategy. There will be a six week consultation before the strategy, modified if needed, goes to the cabinet.
Who knows what that strategy will be? But then we don’t really know why Shropshire Council has launched this consultation only two years after the last library strategy was agreed.