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Library workers check out

by political editor Paul Francis

Supermarket-style self-service "tills" are coming to Kent libraries at a cost of £1.5m and the jobs of more than 80 staff.

Visitors to 30 of the county’s 101 libraries will be able to take out and return borrowed books, DVDs and other items.

They can even pay fines using the kind of terminals common in supermarkets.

But they're often cause frustration for shoppers as automated voices warn of "unexpected items in bagging area".

Kent County Council says the move will in time help save money and that while 83 posts are to be lost, most of those will be achieved through voluntary redundancy and retirements.

The do-it-yourself tills will begin to be installed from April next year at yet to be identified libraries.

The initiative comes against wider concerns that budget cuts will also herald other changes in Kent’s £20m library service, such as possible branch closures and shorter opening hours.

Unions have voiced reservations about the plans, saying it is untested, costly and that the focus should be protecting jobs.

They also say the public values direct contact with library staff.

In a statement, Cllr Mike Hill (Con), KCC cabinet member for community services, said: "Between April 2011 and March 2012 we will install self issue terminals in around 30 libraries across Kent.

"These are quick and easy to use; they can issue and return items, pay fines and charges and allow customers to manage their accounts themselves.

"This means that our staff can spend less time carrying out routine tasks and more time helping our customers face to face."

He added: "Self issue technology will help us to deliver a more efficient and cost effective library service.

"Over the next 18 months we will cover the £1.5m cost of the project and from that point on save an additional £1m per year.

"As part of these savings will we be taking 83 full time equivalent posts out of our current structure.

"However, many of these posts are already vacant, and others will be covered by those retiring or taking voluntary redundancy."

KCC unison branch secretary David Lloyd said: "We are uneasy about these plans particularly given the impact on staff. This is not a cheap initiative."

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