Essex County Council's Cabinet has approved proposals to undertake a major consultation on the future strategy for the county's libraries. Papers published on the council's website set out a vision of a library service available on-line 24-7 to fit with people’s lives in Essex.
Residents are now being asked for their say in a major consultation on the plans, which launched on 29 November 2018 and lasts 12 weeks through to 21 February 2019.
Traditional library use in Essex has collapsed in the last ten years. There are 31% fewer people using Essex libraries now than there were in 2008 – over 100,000 fewer active users (people who have used their library card in the last year) – and loans of books and other items are down by 52%. At the same time, use of the e-library service, including e-book loans and online reservations, has more than doubled since 2013.
Essex has the second-highest number of libraries in the UK and is in the top-five counties nationally for spending on libraries – but with increasing costs and declining usage, especially at some smaller libraries, the service is no longer viable in its current form.
Demand for e-books, e-magazines and e-audio has risen by 205% over five years, from 61,000 loans to 186,000, with demand expected to continue to grow. 85% of adults now own a smartphone and one in ten use a tablet or similar screen every day.
The consultation sets out a vision of modern library service, fit for now and in the future. The future draft proposals aim to build online library services, with fewer, but better libraries and more community-run libraries.