Council proposes to close three city libraries to claw back cash

Nottingham Central Library which closed in Angel Row. (Photo: PROJuliaC2006)
By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter

Nottingham City Council is proposing to close three public libraries as part of plans to save £233,000.

The authority is proposing to close Basford Library in Vernon Road, the Radford Lenton Library in Lenton Boulevard and Aspley Library in Nuthall Road.

Aspley Library will close to the public and become what is described as a “distribution point” providing services such as the home library and mobile/outreach services.

The plans have been drawn up at a time when the city’s main central library remains closed, because its multi-million-pound replacement, part of the new Broadmarsh Car Park and bus station complex, is unfinished.

When complete it will replace the old Angel Row library, which closed in 2020.  This has been described as the most used library in the city – but its books remain in storage awaiting the opening of the new site.

An exact opening date has not been confirmed as the council still needs around £10m to fit-it out.

Now, a public consultation will to be launched to find out what people think about the specific proposals for the three affected libraries.

The council says the three libraries under review have low usage, with 22,680 annual visits to Basford Library, 7,920 visits at the Radford/Lenton library and 38,820 in Aspley. These libraries have also been deemed some of the least cost-effective in the city.

A report prepared for a council meeting on Tuesday, January 18, states: “The way people use libraries is changing. The national picture has seen a decline in book issues.

“With decreasing budgets and changes in user habits, library services are having to redesign services and find innovative ways to reduce costs while maintaining a quality service that meets the needs of citizens.

“Nottingham’s libraries still play an important role in communities by providing access to learning and resources, offering safe and welcoming spaces and providing essential access to free public computers and Wi-Fi to enable people to engage in the digital world.

“There has been a national decline in usage of libraries over the last 10 years which has been mirrored in Nottingham, which has been further accelerated by the pandemic.”

The council commissioned external specialists in library services to carry out a report and launched an online public survey with 1,713 responses received.

It found Nottingham’s overall cost of delivery is higher than most other library authorities, with some libraries having very low usage making the cost of running them high.

The council states: “Nottingham has a tight urban boundary with some neighbourhoods being relatively close to the city centre.

“This allied with ease of access through good transport links has reinforced the role of a Central Library, as a high proportion of library users use this facility alongside their more localised provision.

“The Central Library (prior to its closure) accounted for just under 1/3 of the total services physical book issues.

“The challenge therefore is about transforming what traditionally is seen as a building-based service into a more agile service using technology balanced with physical access where it is most needed.

“Many libraries have overlapping usage catchments and demand in certain areas has declined. Whilst some of the smaller libraries are much loved they are not well-used and the asset base of the service needs major investment.”

Cllr Kevin Clarke, leader of the opposition Independent group at Nottingham City Council said the proposals were “disgusting”.

He said: “We do not have a Central Library. How short-sighted can you be to close the main library in Angel Row before they have sold it? They should have waited until the new Central Library was open before looking to close these libraries.

“They are ripping communities apart and they will pay for it in the end – these are community meeting places.”

The council is responsible for 15 public libraries across the city, made up of a network of 11 community libraries, three libraries at Joint Service Centres and the Central Library.

During 2019/20, people made over 880,711 physical visits to libraries and borrowed more than 602,800 books, audio books and multi-media items.

People also accessed public computers with Internet and free WiFi, with over 203,700 computer hours and 462,900 WiFi hours.

Libraries were also used to access homework clubs, job clubs, business advice and reading challenges. Many people also accessed online library services such as borrowing e-books.

Information from the council’s buildings condition surveys report that an estimated £320,000 needs to be spent to improve library buildings and get them to a safe and modern standard.

A public consultation is planned to take place over a 12-week period from January to May 2022. The proposals are to be discussed at a council Executive Board meeting on Tuesday, January 18.

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