Burgess Hill library could get self-service machines

New proposals have been put forward to ensure West Sussex Library Service can achieve a £650,000 savings target as part of the County Council’s overall plan to save £79m over three years.

One of the proposals is to install self-service machines at Burgess Hill Library. Others include asking people to donate new books after they have read them and using more volunteer staff at smaller libraries such as Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint.

“I am delighted to be able to say that none of the county’s 36 libraries will be closed under the new proposals, and the revised mobile library service will be left untouched,” said Deputy County Council Leader Lionel Barnard, who oversees Libraries.

However the county had come close to drastic action. One of the considerations was closing libraries for one day a week to help manage costs, but the idea was not pursued, according to Select Committee Papers just published.

“Originally we were working with just the smaller libraries to find alternative ways of delivering the service, but now it is clear the savings should be found from across the whole libraries network,” said Lionel.

“You only need to look at the difficult decisions that have had to be made about adult social care, and the subsidy on buses, to realise how serious the financial situation is.

“However we now believe that further efficiencies in our waste management contracts will allow the money to be found.”

The proposals include:

· Reducing by £200,000 the amount of money spent on new books and other lending items such as DVDs and books on CD.

· Exploring ways of raising money to augment the media fund, which buys stock for Libraries.

· Appealing again for recently published books in good condition to be donated.

· Stopping direct deliveries to Residential Homes and Sheltered Housing, but encouraging their staff or volunteers to collect books instead. This would save around £75,000.

· Installing Self-Service machines into libraries at Burgess Hill, Shoreham, Lancing and Storrington. These have already proved popular in locations such as Horsham. Job savings would be found by managing vacancies.

“We are looking to reduce paid staff in smaller libraries, and work with communities to find volunteers to offer support,” added Lionel.

“For customers this is more realistic than expecting libraries to be run wholly by volunteers, which communities told us they didn’t like. We are still looking at the details of how things will work, but we have avoided any change to the opening hours.

“The entire Cabinet agreed that if the financial problems for the whole county were not so grave, they would not have wished to impose any of the options. It was challenging and impossible to achieve without affecting staff and services.”

The impact on jobs caused by the proposals is currently being assessed, and some losses could be offset by unfilled vacancies.

The Community Services Select Committee will consider the proposals on November 9, after which Lionel will make his decision.