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SCC Commitment to Keep Public Libraries

Published on: 5 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 7 Dec, 2021

Guildford Library in North Street

Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Surrey councillors have made a commitment that no library services will be lost in the county in the face of large costs to upgrade facilities.

At Surrey County Council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday (November 30), councillors discussed the library modernisation plan that has been in progress since 2019 and aims to make libraries a centre of the community.

Plans include ensuring libraries support health and well-being by combatting loneliness, that they play a part in regenerating high streets, and continue to act as learning and social hubs.

Councillor Mark Nuti (Conservative, Chertsey), cabinet member for communities, said libraries had had to adapt during covid, offering more digital services and outlined the next steps in the county council’s plans to modernise libraries and make them community hubs.

He reiterated the pledge made at the start of the campaign in 2019 that no libraries would be closed or lost.

He said: “We want to keep what we have but we want to improve it. That may mean moving things around and changing things, but it will only be done to improve the service that we offer.”

Natalie Bramhall (Conservative, Redhill West & Meadvale) talked about the changes that had taken place in libraries since she was little. She talked about the variety of people using libraries before Covid, from children’s rhyme times, to people using computers and reading newspapers and magazines.

She said: “When I was a little girl I used to go to the library with my grandmother.

“We almost had to put on hat and gloves to go to the library and you couldn’t speak and everybody had to whisper. It was a really austere and regulated place.”

She said one of the biggest changes now was how libraries were at the centre of communities, particularly thinking about Dorking and Woking libraries in the middle of the towns and how “busy and vibrant and interesting” they are.

Achievements as part of the plan so far include joining the Libraries Consortium which means residents can use their Surrey library card to access libraries in Essex and 18 London boroughs and being on track to make savings of £2.9 million by the end of March 2022.

Libraries in Redhill and Staines are being looked at as a priority. A council report said: “In both cases options for the library are being considered alongside other significant initiatives in the area, enabling a holistic view on how the library can support the local community as part of a connected set of local services and settings.”

Libraries in Surrey are a mix of 28 freehold and 24 leasehold properties with many that have a “substantial maintenance backlog due to their age and condition” according to council papers.

Surveys carried out by the council estimate it would cost £7.5 million to bring the library buildings back to an acceptable standard.

Councillor Nuti was also keen to encourage cabinet members to visit Surrey’s libraries.

He said: “I challenge you all to go into your local library and you will see a difference and you will feel a difference.

“The attitudes have changed of the staff. The atmosphere is changing in the libraries, they are great places to go and meet your local residents.”

Cabinet members agreed the recommendations in the report to proceed with the strategic intent and key principles of the plan, and begin to look at libraries on a case-by-case basis.

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Responses to SCC Commitment to Keep Public Libraries

  1. Ian Stronge Reply

    December 5, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    Is there anything about how staffing with professionals and volunteers are to be developed, including for running “hubs”? Or is this plan all about capital costs and building maintenance?

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