THE number of visitors to St Helens’ libraries is down by almost 30 per cent, in part due to the closure of Central Library, a council report has revealed.

A six-week review of the borough’s library services took place from March to April of this year, due to ‘unprecedented financial challenges’.

The new strategy is due to be finalised in early 2018-19 and if accepted will go out to public consultation.

Central Library has remained closed since November 2017 due to the significant remedial work required in the Gamble building.

The council’s performance outturn report has revealed the total number of visits to libraries per 1,000 population in 2017-18 stood at 3,218 – six per cent below a target reduced to reflect the closure of Central Library.

“The target proved too challenging despite its reduction and overall performance was 28 per cent down on the previous year,” the report says.

“Some of the customers of Central Library will have transferred their business to a branch library.

“However, a large proportion will not have access with no viable town centre alternative.

“Relocation of Central Library remains a priority for the service.”

The report says that options for an appropriate temporary location for the Central Library “continue to be examined”.

One option is the creation of a joint cultural and arts offer at the World of Glass.

“A concept design report was produced for this joint cultural and arts offer with a view to co-locating Central Library, arts services and the museum under one roof and funding options are now being considered,” the report says.

While visitor numbers were below target, the estimated number of active library members was four per cent better than target, at 194 per 1,000 population.

Again, this was a revised target that took into consideration the impact on the service from the closure of Central Library.

However, the number of items borrowed from libraries, in line with national trends, continues to fall.

A total of 2,479 items were borrowed per 1,000 population, a 14 per cent reduction on the previous year.

To encourage greater borrowing, e-services have been developed with the introduction of e-comics and magazines.

The number of public IT hours recorded per 1,000 population met the reduced target, but saw a 17 per cent reduction on the previous year’s outturn.

“Performance will have been impacted by the closure of Central Library,” the report says.

“The latest comparative data for 2016-17 shows St Helens to be performing above the average of statistical neighbours.”

The report was noted by Cabinet.