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More than just libraries

Residents could get advice about their Council Tax while checking out a book if plans to transform library services are approved at this month’s cabinet meeting.

The plans, which have been formed on the back of the recent libraries consultation, include merging local customer service officers with library staff, using buildings more effectively and recruiting more volunteers to help deliver services.

Despite cuts of £160m since 2010, Wigan Council has vowed to protect library services as part of The Deal and following the latest budget consultation which found that two thirds (3,018) of those asked wanted to keep libraries open.

The council is proposing to maintain all 15 of the borough’s libraries – an unusual move in the current economic climate which has seen many close their doors.

The libraries consultation, which ran from Monday 14th November 2016 until Sunday 5th February 2017, asked residents to have their say on the current service and to suggest how it could be improved to make it more efficient and effective for the future.

There were three separate consultations, one for general members of the public, one for the home delivery service and one for staff. A total of 2,419 responses were received, with 2,161 completing the general survey, 185 the home delivery survey and 73 the staff survey.

The majority of those asked agreed that:

  • Front facing library and customer service staff should work together (of those who answered the question over all three surveys 64 per cent agreed and 12 per cent disagreed)
  • Buildings should be used more effectively, including proposals to transform Leigh town hall and develop the Turnpike Centre; relocate Atherton library to the town hall (of those who answered the question over all three surveys 61 per cent agreed and 15 per cent disagreed)
  • Increase volunteer engagement, including opportunities for community delivery, ownership and asset transfer (of those who answered the question over all three surveys 58 per cent agreed, 19 per cent disagreed).
  • The home delivery service should be run differently by recruiting volunteers (of those who answered the question over all three surveys 53 per cent agreed and 19 per cent disagreed).

Three of the borough’s libraries, Aspull, Hope and Shevington, are already either fully or partly staffed by volunteers. In 2016, there were 101 active volunteers helping to support the library service. As part of this consultation, an additional 84 people said they would like to volunteer.

Councillor Jenny Bullen, cabinet member for leisure at Wigan Council, explains:

“During the budget consultation residents made it clear how much they value libraries, which is why we’re working hard to protect them. Over the last few years libraries have become much more than a room filled with books, they’ve become a place where people meet and socialise and where children learn to love books. They really are the beating heart of the local community. It’s for those reasons that we think it would be better to house more services under the same roof. Not only will it make it easier for residents to access a number of services under one roof but it could also improve the library offer by extending opening hours.

“We want to protect the future of our libraries and we believe by doing this we can. Thank you to all those who took part in the consultation.”

View the proposals and results of the consultation.

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