No library closures in Luton despite falling visitor numbers as consultation begins on their future
Council says many of the existing buildings need upgrading or modernising
Luton residents are being reassured that no existing libraries will be closed as the council today (December 3) launches a public consultation on their future.
It says it will however consider relocating some facilities and also look at sharing space with other services as it admits visitors and borrowing figures have dropped in recent times, even before the pandemic.
The council say many of the existing buildings need upgrading or modernising so they are fit for purpose and suitable for future use and the consultation aims to seek views from the community about what they would like from the library service going forward
In a statement, the council said: "Libraries remain a priority service for the council and we absolutely appreciate how much they are valued by our local communities, so we’re calling on all residents, local communities, staff and our partners to help us shape the future of Luton’s library service. Whether you’re an active library user, or have not visited our libraries before, we want to hear from you."
The consultation will be in two parts. The first phase will take place from today (December 3) to February 27, 2022 and will involve gathering views to help develop future proposals.
The council says it will consider alternative models to make library spaces more adaptable and cost effective; identify alternative and better ways it could use library buildings; consider relocating (not closing) some of the existing libraries; look at the feasibility of sharing library buildings and spaces with other services; examine how it can extend library services to communities currently not served by a physical library; investigate the potential of ‘open library technology’ which has been effective in increasing the opening hours and footfall at libraries in other areas.
Cllr Khtija Malik, portfolio holder for public health and wellbeing, said: “Libraries are at the heart of our communities and provide valuable services including digital access, job clubs, health and wellbeing activities and book lending. But like most towns across the country, the way people are using Luton’s libraries is changing; and although the Covid pandemic has clearly had an impact on this, prior to the crisis, visitor numbers were falling and there were fewer active borrowers and book loans.
“Our goal is for the library service to inspire people to read, learn and access trusted sources of information, enabling individuals to improve their economic and social wellbeing. This will be achieved through the provision of easily accessible physical and online information, welcoming community spaces, access to health and wellbeing services, and supporting skill development to use this information for all.
“Our library service is therefore fundamental in breaking the link between information poverty and income poverty, and in reducing social isolation towards achieving the Luton 2040 vision.”
The easiest ways to share views is by completing the survey online at engage.luton.gov.uk/libraries. You can also request a paper copy of the survey from any Luton library from next week or by emailing [email protected]. Paper copies of surveys can be returned to any library or posted to: Freepost Luton Borough Council, Library Consultation1.
Surveys must be completed and returned by midnight on Sunday, February 27. It can also be provided in a different format or language on request just email [email protected] or call 01582 548554 and state your requirements.
The council has also arranged a series of daytime and evening events online and in person so the public can hear more about the proposals, ask questions and provide feedback on the consultation verbally. See engage.luton.gov.uk/libraries for details of dates and times.
Social distancing at the in-person events means the number of people who can attend will be restricted and the council is asking that the public register to attend an event as soon as possible by emailing [email protected] or call 01582 548554.
Cllr Khtija Malik, added: “I want to reassure residents that no decisions will be made until we have listened to their views. This is a great opportunity for local people to help shape the future of Luton’s libraries and I would encourage all library users and even those who don’t or have never used our library service to have their say and tell us what you think about our proposals and also offer alternative options that we will consider.”
The council says the second phase of the consultation will involve it consulting on firm proposals identified as a result of phase one and to assess how changes to the library service will impact on service users.
A decision will be made by the council’s Executive next year following both consultations. Reports based on the results will be produced and will be publicly available and will be used to inform the decision making process.