Shake-up of Kent's libraries planned by county council
Shops, surgeries and schools could all have a role to play in
Kent's library service under a far-reaching shake-up planned by
Kent County Council.
But details of whether any libraries will have to close remain
unclear as the council says it plans to listen to what local
communities want to see happen before making specific
And there is no indication yet of the extent of possible job
There are already concerns that unless volunteer groups or
parish councils step in, some smaller libraries may end up
County councillors and library staff were told about the
review, KCC says it wants residents to be at the forefront of the
debate about what should happen to the 99 libraries.
It also plans to extend supermarket-style self-service tills in
more libraries – raising the prospect of job losses – and
says book borrowers could end up in shops and surgeries rather than
Library chiefs say they want to listen to new ideas about how
best the service can be run at a time when the budget is being
It wants groups of councillors on so-called locality
boards – some of which have yet to be set up – to examine
The authority says it has no specific target for the amount of
money it needs to save.
The council has acknowledged the issue of cuts is a sensitive
one that could lead to legal challenges, as has happened
Cath Anley, head of KCC's library service, said the review was
not just about transferring libraries to volunteer groups.
"There are some neat solutions that will improve services by
allowing us to join up other services. Schools, shops and surgeries
could all help us," she said.
"We want to sit down with local members and explain what
opportunities might be there for us."
Asked about the prospect of campaigners challenging any cuts
under legislation that requires councils to provide a library
service, she added: "The legislation is flexible enough but we will
only really know if there is a challenge."
Cllr Mike Hill, cabinet member for customer and communities,
said: "This approach represents a fresh way forward for library
"It balances the needs to modernise services, work with
communities to find innovative and efficient ways to maintain a
local library service and meet our statutory responsibilities."
However, opposition parties have expressed misgivings.
Cllr Ian Chittenden said: "Some of these locality boards haven't
even been set up and are dealing with two of the most contentious
issues facing the council in the library and youth service
"What happens if the local community wants to keep its library
but there's no offer from the voluntary sector?"
The issue of libraries is sensitive for the ruling Conservatives
at County Hall.
A backbench revolt forced earlier plans, involving the potential
closure of up to 40 libraries, off the agenda.
The review is expected to last several months, with a range of
public meetings likely to be involved.
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