Listen Live

Final chapter for mobile libraries?

Thursday, 6 July 2023 09:17

By Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

A Devon mobile library (Image: Libraries Unlimited)

Council expected to end service

Devon’s mobile library service is expected to be shut down next week.

The county council launched a consultation about its future earlier this year, with user numbers down and three of its mobile libraries coming to the end of their “serviceable lives.”

In the last decade, the number of loans from the service has fallen by 68 per cent, leading the council to conclude it’s no longer “cost-effective” and “not sustainable.”

The council’s ruling cabinet will next week be asked to decommission the vehicles, which would cost up to £800,000 to replace, and spend £25,000 on “transition support” for vulnerable users to still access alternative library services.

It comes despite over half of users who responded to the consultation saying the mobile service is their only way of accessing library services in Devon, and they “would or could not use the library service at all” if it stopped.

Meanwhile, a further 28 per cent said the closure would mean they would use the library service less.

Just under half of the 1,197 responses to the consultation added comments, with a majority of these wanting to keep the service running.

Many described it as one of the last services in rural villages, therefore becoming a place to meet, socialise and catch up with neighbours and the librarians.

The report added: “For some who said they are isolated or unable to get out of the house much, the social aspect of the service is the only time they get to talk to people.”

It was also mentioned that having access to books was a lifeline to help combat isolation and loneliness, ultimately benefitting users’ mental health.

However, the council report due to be considered by cabinet says the “significant pressures on the council’s finances” means the plans are a “reasonable solution to reducing costs” when there is a need for “considerable reinvestment in mobile library vehicles.”

It adds: “Whilst the service is well regarded by its users, the usage is comparatively low, does not represent a cost-effective means of delivering the service, and given the financial challenges, is ultimately not sustainable.

“Reducing the costs from this service will help to secure the wider sustainability of library services in Devon.”

The mobile service is currently provided through a contract with Libraries Unlimited, a charity funded by local authorities and through grants which operates Devon and Torbay’s 54 public libraries.

Libraries Unlimited is currently running a staff consultation pending the council’s decision. Some redundancies are likely, though DCC says it is “working closely” with the charity on “redeployment opportunities.”

Devon’s cabinet will make its decision next Wednesday [12 July].

More from Local News

Listen Live
On Air Now Neil Walker Playing Something To Talk About Badly Drawn Boy