Residents running libraries is Surrey's Big Society challenge
Cllr Andrew Povey, the Leader of Surrey County Council, is delighted by the response of residents invited to help run local libraries
Libraries are a hot topic in the news at the moment, especially as Local Authorities try to find ways of maintaining service levels with ever-dwindling budgets. Against this backdrop of library closures across the country, we have set out a direction which we passionately believe will provide long-term solutions in attempting to keep all Surrey static libraries open - I believe the traditional approach to providing library services needs to be looked at again. Surrey County Council has recently completed a Public Value Review (PVR) of its Library Service and found that we simply cannot continue to run the service in its
current form. Therefore, like many other local authorities, we have had to look at new and fresh ways of ensuring that the service continues.
I am confident that the Big Society will give everybody an opportunity to get involved in their local communities and we are therefore keen to explore options whereby libraries might be run by local residents themselves. This would represent an exciting opportunity for communities to really become involved in what they want from their local library – the Council will still provide the building and the books stock – but local people themselves would be able to run it and could possibly combine them with other services, all in one place.
We need to change our libraries to reflect the changing way people say they want to use them. We also need to ensure they are cost effective and efficient to run so that we can meet the budget pressures we face over the next four years.
As part of the review of our library service, we are offering people the opportunity to take over the day-to-day running of some of Surrey’s libraries. Through sharing resources the council will be able to focus on the larger and busier libraries, as well as the virtual library, and communities can help ensure they have a library that meets the needs of their community. Where community organisations express an interest in running a library we will help them do so.
I would welcome some fresh and exciting ideas on the operation of libraries in the future and am delighted to recognise the increased popularity of online usage with over three million transactions online in the past year. I am convinced that in the future, the importance of broadband in delivering library service will become increasingly significant.
When I recently met with the eleven (Conservative) MPs who represent Surrey, we discussed libraries and the enthusiastic response received to our call for community help in running and keeping our static libraries open. I then heard how communities from across the County have volunteered to help, and I'm delighted and not at all surprised that our residents have risen to this challenge so far.
In line with the Big Society agenda, we see the role of community partnerships as an imaginative solution going forward. We want to see libraries as the centre of community and cultural hubs, generating a variety of local activities to increase footfall and help keep these important local attributes open. I see the County Council as a partner in helping communities to deliver a vibrant library service locally, and we will support them to achieve these aims.