This is a strategy for the provision of library services in Essex over the next five years, from 2019/20 to 2023/24. This document was approved by Essex County Council’s Cabinet in July 2019, in the context of a range of supporting documents including an Equalities Impact Assessment and the result of public consultation, Essex Future Libraries Consultation Report.
You can download the Essex Future Libraries Services Strategy as a PDF.
- Our vision and ambitions
- National context
- Why do we need a new strategy?
- What Essex people say
- Our priorities
- Our core offer
- The council's offer to community-run libraries
- Resources and investment
- What about the buildings?
- Our eLibrary
- Opening hours and access
- Our people
- Volunteers and community involvement
by Cllr Susan Barker, Cabinet Member for Customer, Corporate, Culture and Communities
Libraries educate, entertain and inform. They play a unique role in our society, providing us with learning resources, safe community spaces and digital access. They are both an entrance way to fictional new destinations and help us to gain greater knowledge of our own world.
I am incredibly proud of the public library service in Essex and both the employees and volunteers who deliver it.
The use of libraries in Essex has declined over the last ten years – book borrowing has almost halved, fewer than one in five Essex residents are active library members and memberships, visits and demand for library computers are all down by a third or more. Customers’ expectations have continued to evolve as more of us read, learn, shop and seek entertainment online.
I take my role as Cabinet Member with responsibility for library services incredibly seriously. I have visited every library in Essex to understand the challenges they face. What quickly became clear was that the library service needs to be more ambitious in order to better meet the needs of its users.
Between November 2018 and February 2019, Essex County Council conducted one of our largest consultations ever when we asked the people of Essex to comment on the draft Future Library Services Strategy. Nearly 22,000 people responded to the survey, with many more sending in letters and e-mails expressing their views on the new ambitions and what the library service means to them.
I am grateful to all the individuals, families and organisations that took the time to respond to the consultation. I am grateful to the schoolchildren who sent in pictures of what a library of the future would look like. I am grateful to every single person who expressed their views.
We have listened and the final strategy reflects this.
We will work with our communities, employees and volunteers to ensure that we create a modern library service that is fit for the 21st century, whilst also continuing to explore the opportunities that innovative technology affords and being open to new and creative ideas.
We have heard that libraries are not just about books or computers – but that they are spaces too for people to meet, learn and exchange ideas. And we have heard and seen the passion of communities that want to keep a local library. So, we have changed the strategy.
We will invest in the library service to create new vibrant, modern spaces in council-run libraries in towns, villages and suburbs across the county. And we will work strenuously with local people to set up community-run libraries and provide funding and support to help make them a success.
We are convinced that there are better ways to run the service and by working with communities we can keep a library service in every current location. The passion and energy of local people can also revitalise library services and community spaces, bring communities together and help tackle social isolation and loneliness. So, we will keep all libraries open while we work together to transform the service. We are still concerned about the declining use but believe a combination of council-run and community-run libraries offer the best hope to reverse the trend.
We have received 80 expressions of interest already from communities to manage community-run libraries. These community groups and organisations include parish councils, residents associations, pre-schools and village hall trusts.
We will provide guidance to each of those who have submitted an expression of interest and welcome any new ones, so that they can develop a robust proposal. This document also details the significant support offer we will provide, which includes grant funding, an initial donation of books and stock rotation, to get these proposals off to the best start.
We will also develop a wide-ranging outreach programme, to provide library services and activities where they are needed most, including schools, playgroups, village halls and other community venues. We will use our mobile libraries and Home Library Service to reach those who may otherwise struggle to access library services.
I am excited to see a library service that communities are part of too; that continues to play a role in the lives of people of all ages and that appeals to new and old users alike. Read the full consultation findings and comments made.