Libraries play a unique role in society for reading, learning, digital access and culture. But society has changed and library use has slumped in the last 10 years.
In Essex, loans have more than halved, membership is down by a third and fewer than a fifth of Essex residents now use libraries. This means that, given the pressure on all public finances, the current service isn’t viable.
We have listened to what Essex people have told us and developed a plan to shape a service that is modern, focused and fit for the way we live now and in future.
Our vision is for a 21st century library service that is inclusive and vibrant and enables all users to learn, engage and remain connected to their communities.
Our plan to achieve that is:
- to enable more people to use online library services 24/7
- fewer, better libraries, more focused on meeting needs
- more community-run libraries and
- more library services in the community
Ways to access library services
We propose that Essex library services be delivered, according to need for them, through a range of physical and online services:
- Enhanced eLibrary services to make it easier for customers to access library materials anywhere, anytime from their own devices
- a network of libraries across the county, run by Essex County Council alone or in partnership with other groups or organisations
- outreach to bring some library services and activities out to communities according to need, such as running a children’s story time in a village hall
- mobile libraries, which currently serve 217 stops around the county but could see more stops added depending on need
- Home Library Service, where volunteers bring books and other loan items to people in their own homes
- friends and family membership, where friends or family members can collect and return books and other items for you
A needs-based approach
We propose placing current libraries into four tiers, based on need for them. Need will be assessed by looking at their location, how well used they are and data about population, deprivation and social isolation. Read the needs assessment for more information.
Just under 90% of library users currently use libraries in tiers 1-3.
Tier 1: main or ‘hub’ libraries, at least one in each district or borough, managed by ECC as part of our statutory provision of a comprehensive network. These will normally be in a main town or other population and employment centre with good transport links and other facilities.
Fifteen libraries are proposed for tier 1: Basildon, Billericay, Braintree, Brentwood, Canvey Island, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Harlow, Loughton, Maldon, Rayleigh, Saffron Walden, Wickford, Witham.
Tier 2: Library services in areas where there is a need for them, managed by ECC as part of our statutory provision of a comprehensive network and delivered in partnership with the community or other partner.
Fifteen libraries are proposed for tier 2: Burnham, Chipping Ongar, Epping, Great Baddow, Great Dunmow, Greenstead, Halstead, Harwich, Laindon, North Melbourne, Old Harlow, Pitsea, Rochford, South Woodham Ferrers, Waltham Abbey.
Tier 3: Locations where no library service is needed to have a comprehensive and efficient network, but where ECC wishes to support the provision of library services run by a community or partner organisation with ECC support. Groups interested in running community libraries should let us know in the survey.
Nineteen libraries are proposed for tier 3: Brightlingsea, Coggeshall, Earls Colne, Frinton, Great Parndon, Great Tarpots, Hadleigh, Hockley, Ingatestone, Manningtree, Shenfield, South Benfleet, Springfield, Stanway, Tiptree, Walton, West Clacton, West Mersea, Wivenhoe.
Tier 4: Locations where a library service is not required as part of a comprehensive service. This is based on evidence of need in those areas compared to other areas, proximity to other libraries within a two mile walk and the spread of library services across the district and across the county. We propose to close these libraries but will consider proposals for community libraries.
Twenty-five libraries are proposed for tier 4: Broomfield, Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Danbury, Debden, Fryerns, Galleywood, Great Wakering, Hatfield Peverel, Holland, Hullbridge, Kelvedon, Mark Hall, North Weald, Prettygate, Sible Hedingham, Silver End, Southminster, Stansted, Stock, Thaxted, Tye Green, Vange, Wickham Bishops and Writtle.
Home library, friends and family membership and eLibrary services will be available to anybody in these areas who wants to use them. We will consider adding mobile library stops according to need.