Newcastle’s draft budget proposals, published on January 26, highlight that some changes will be made to the way in which some library services are delivered. Newcastle is a high-performing library service that continues to be well-resourced and supported by the City Council. The idea of a ‘Library Express’ was first developed as part of a review of libraries in 2006 and our first Library Express opened in Fawdon in December 2008. A Library Express is a collocated service with a mixture of dedicated staffing hours, self service and support from partners in a shared building (which can be a library or other suitable location).
Fawdon has been a significant success with rising book issues and library visits since the library building closed and relocated to a nearby community centre (after years of falling library business levels). We are now looking at extending this model, to maintain a library presence in all locations and to make sure that no libraries are closed.
This obviously sounds pretty sensible and like good news. I did write back with a couple of questions. I asked whether there were any figures on lending or footfall from before and after the Fawdon pilot, and also what the impact of the plans would be on jobs. Here’s what David said:
The figures for Fawdon pre and post Library Express are:
The book issue figures may not look dramatic but in the previous dedicated library they were falling year on year so any increase needs to be set against this loss. New members and visits are much improved though.
Implementing Library Expresses will reduce staffing (Fawdon currently has unstaffed periods) although we will be working to make sure busy periods are covered and that staff will organise special activities like class visits. We have not agreed a final number of libraries yet but the number of full-time equivalent posts transferring could be between 8 – 10 (but this could be less). No library will be entirely self service there will be staffed periods most days.The staffing reductions will be through the use of self-issue and partnership working (Fawdon is a self-issue library). There will also be freephone links to larger libraries so that if people want to join the library or have a problem with their ticket when someone will be on hand to help. In considering Library Express locations we will also consider proximity to other full-time libraries (which in some cases could be less than 1 mile away)
I should stress that we have been keeping vacant posts available for some time so no colleagues with a permanent contract will be at risk because of these proposals.
Personally, from the information I have I am satisfied that the proposed changes to Newcastle City Libraries are not exclusively cost-cutting measures. They seem well thought through, they have been successfully trialled, and from the numbers for the Fawdon pilot the Library Express scheme does actually appear to improve the library service for end users. If it increases footfall, new memberships and issues, that looks good to me. I would of course be keen to hear from anyone in Fawdon who uses their local library.
In the meantime, I would like to thank David Fay for taking the time to get in touch, explain the situation and answer my nosy questions.