On 19 September the County Council’s Cabinet considered whether to consult with the public on its proposed draft Strategy for the future of East Sussex Libraries.

The following has been produced by the County Council:

“East Sussex Libraries – The Way Forward is a complete review of our Library and Information Service and is the final part of our wider Libraries Transformation Programme.  It is designed to deliver a modern and sustainable library service for the next five years, based on the needs of the people of East Sussex.

Libraries offer an affordable way for people to enjoy the pleasure of reading and access to culture, and they provide the knowledge, information and sources of inspiration to support and empower people to make transformational changes to their lives.  Our Library and Information Service supports literacy, helps people get online and find work and new training opportunities, and provides all kinds of information, from health to hobbies.

Our work to produce the proposed draft Strategy shows that there are still significant needs across the county, and especially within certain communities, around literacy, attainment, employment and ultimately health and wellbeing, which the Library and Information Service is ideally placed to help tackle. 

Our proposals would enable us to modernise the East Sussex Library and Information Service in order to respond to these needs which we have identified, as well as meeting the increasing demand from customers to access library services online.  We would do this in two key ways:

  • by enhancing the eLibrary, continuing to expand the growing range of online services and materials we offer; and
  • by providing a greater focus on outreach provision in our most disadvantaged communities, working more closely with other County Council services and partners; this would enable us to use our limited resources more effectively to have the greatest impact for those people who stand to benefit most from the service, but may be less able or inclined to visit a library.

We also need to recognise that the number of people visiting and borrowing items from libraries has reduced by around 40% over the past ten years. Our proposals would enable us to cut our costs by having fewer libraries and prioritise our resources to have a greater impact in supporting people in East Sussex.  We are therefore proposing:

-        a network of 17 library buildings across the county, ensuring that there remains a very high level of accessibility to a library by public transport or by car within a reasonable journey time of 20-25 minutes. These 17 libraries are Battle, Bexhill, Crowborough, Eastbourne, Forest Row, Hailsham, Hampden Park, Hastings, Heathfield, Hollington, Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Rye, Seaford, Uckfield and Wadhurst.

Seven of the current 24 libraries would, therefore, not be retained. These are Langney, Mayfield, Ore, Pevensey Bay, Polegate, Ringmer and Willingdon.

-        to no longer provide the Mobile Library Service, or provide a supply of books for the Northiam Village Library. This proposal takes into account the fact that the 17 library buildings and the eLibrary provide a high level of accessibility to library services for rural communities, and are a more efficient way to meet needs for library services in these areas. A list of our 88 Mobile Library stops is attached.

We have given specific consideration in the proposed draft Strategy to potential options for the seven libraries that we do not propose to retain to be community run or community funded if there is a desire within communities for the libraries to continue to operate.  These options include keeping the seven libraries within the East Sussex Library and Information Service if they can be funded wholly by communities or other organisations.  Alternatively, communities or other groups or organisations may wish to take over the leases of buildings or purchase them (where this is possible) and run them as completely independent libraries or use them for other purposes.  We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these options with anyone in the community who may be interested in exploring these options.

Subject to Cabinet approval on 19 September, there will be a 12 week public consultation on the proposals from 21 September to 14 December.  I recognise that for some people in your community, our proposals would impact how they use the library service.  We would like to hear from anyone with views about the proposed draft Strategy, particularly if they feel they would be affected by our proposals. If Cabinet approves the consultation on the proposed draft Strategy, we will publicise widely in the press, on our website and via social media how people can take part in the consultation. 

In the meantime our proposed draft Strategy -East Sussex Libraries – The Way Forward and the supporting papers that the County Council’s Cabinet  considered on 19 September can be accessed from www.eastsussex.gov.uk/librarystrategy.“