A REVIEW of St Helens Libraries Service will offer residents the chance to have their say on the shape of the network's future.

St Helens Borough Council’s cabinet this afternoon approved a draft strategy which sets out plans to "create a modern, inclusive library service over the next five years".

Examining the "building assets and outline options in relation to the buildings", meeting the "changing needs of residents and communities" and "exploring community led management" structures will form part of the review.

The council will also explore how the "digital offer" could be enhanced.

The council currently runs 13 libraries and offers a range of other services, including digital services and home deliveries - which increased dramatically during the pandemic.

Prior to Covid, the spaces would also play host to a number of events.

Cabinet member Anthony Burns says with footfall to libraries having fallen over the past 10 years, "the council must consider all options to deliver library provision in new and more efficient and innovative ways".

Central government funding has reduced dramatically over the past 11 years and the local authority adds that it is reviewing ways services such as libraries – which are used for more than just traditional book borrowing – can be transformed.

The strategy will respond to "the needs of library users and embrace community involvement", adds the council.

Cabinet member Anthony Burns (left) at St Helens Library during last years launch

Cabinet member Anthony Burns (left) at St Helens Library during last year's launch

In a statement St Helens Borough Council says it "has a statutory duty to deliver a free library service to all who live, work or study in the borough", however, it adds "The Department for Culture, Media and Sport allows a wide range of approaches when deciding how library services can be run".

The council added: "In the last year the library service has stepped up to continue to provide the vital services that residents enjoy through alternative ways as a result of the pandemic.

"From being able to get e-materials like books and magazines online at any time of day, to home delivery service providing for those unable to leave home or with limited online access, the past year has seen library members learn new ways of taking advantage of the great offers.

"The strategy notes that libraries are being used more and more as meeting places for community groups and partner agencies. This demonstrates the need for the service to continue to evolve to meet demand including enhancing its digital offer.

"Some areas in the UK, such as Essex and Doncaster, have changed to a community-led management model, and the council keen to hear from individuals, community groups, parish councils and businesses to explore the idea of introducing this approach in St Helens borough."

A 12-week public consultation will start on Monday, June 7, allowing residents to give their views.

In a statemnt Councillor Anthony Burns, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Culture and Heritage, said: “We’re all proud of our library services and the offer they provide.

Inside St Helens Library at the World of Glass

Inside St Helens Library at the World of Glass

“Our fantastic library staff do so much more than help with book borrowing; they assist with digital skills, host community groups, exhibitions and events and so much more. Throughout the pandemic they have gone above and beyond to make sure customers had access to books and resources through the Home Delivery Library Service, Schools Library Service and online activity.

“It’s well known that the council has to make significant budget savings in the next year because financial support from Central Government has been shrunk from £127m a year in 2010 to just £12m this year.

“While it may not be easy, our administration has made a commitment to see the library return to the Gamble building once the repair works are complete.

"Moving forward together we can make the most of this opportunity, meeting the changing demands of residents while of course making sure we provide support to the communities most in need.

“Our library service is a key link in helping us to achieve our ambitions through the St Helens Together Borough Strategy making our borough a place that is focused on creating strong communities for everyone.

"This new strategy is about working with those communities on how we shape library services to be a part of their future.

"That is why it is so vital that we hear from you about what you want to see from our service and we'd love to hear from community groups and partners interested in how library services could be delivered in their area.

"We have continued to invest in the service, including opening the new St Helens Library in The World of Glass in 2020.

"But in the last ten years, traditional use of libraries has fallen which is why we must consider all options to deliver library provision in new and more efficient and innovative ways to create an active and sustainable service for our residents.”

An online consultation will go live on Monday, June 7. Paper copies available in libraries.

To view the strategy, visit: http://moderngov.sthelens.gov.uk/documents/s114417/Appendix%20A.pdf