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A new chapter for the future of our libraries?

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: January 10, 2014

Burton Library

Burton Library

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A COMMON theme emerged from people on the streets of Burton town centre when they were asked about the town’s library – that they don’t often use it, but would be sad to lose it.

And it is this way of thinking which is causing a headache for council bosses as they try to justify continuing to plough funds into libraries where attendance figures continue to dwindle.

Staffordshire County Council this week produced details of its blueprint for the future of the service and is encouraging feedback from the public about how to make libraries viable in the modern day.

In the 21st century world of the internet, tablets and e-books, one thing is certain – if the library is to survive it must continue to adapt.

Visits to libraries in Staffordshire have fallen by 12 per cent over the last three years, with issues of books down by 19 per cent.

Last year alone, 12 per cent fewer books were issued, with bosses bracing themselves for a greater drop during 2014.

One pensioner from Stapenhill told the Mail that he had never visited a library in his life.

Elsewhere in the Midlands, libraries are often near the top of the list of services to be sacrificed by belt-tightening councils.

Wolverhampton City Council announced this week plans to open some of its libraries for just 15 hours a week as it seeks to address its budget crisis.

But it appears for now at least, chiefs in Staffordshire are committed to keeping them going.

Over the next three months, bosses will hold discussions with library stakeholders and partners, as well as members of the public to explore how libraries are used and ‘what demand exists for current and future services’, to ensure the council ‘delivers real value for money to taxpayers’.

A statement from Mike Lawrence, the county council’s communities chief, said: “We are taking a bold, innovative approach to make sure that we provide Staffordshire people with a library service that meets their needs and responds to how they live their lives.

“Libraries have changed enormously in recent years and they need to continue evolving as the way that people want information and learning, the way they socialise and interact with each other or with organisations is changing in the digital age.

“We therefore want to explore how we can adapt the library service so that it continues to remain a relevant and valued part of the community into the future.”

Bosses at Burton’s library, off High Street, were approached by the Mail for their views, but said, due to council policy, they were unable to comment.

Away from Burton, the consultation will also impact on a village six miles along the A38.

Ed Sharkey, vice-chairman of Barton under Needwood Parish Council, sees the library as a staple of the village and believes residents would be hit hard were they to lose it.

He said: “I use the library service in Barton. I usually have a book on the go, and my wife will be in there every other week.

“My personal view is that it is an excellent service that is part of the community, not just in terms of providing a facility where people can borrow a book, but also for accessing a range of information and media.

“I’ve been a resident here for 50 years and the library has kept pace with change. I know children of friends who make use of the facility for multi-use gaming and I know the school next door (John Taylor) uses it extensively. I think it would be a great shame if we were to lose it.”

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