Helston Library is set to move temporarily

As many will know, the future of libraries and One Stop Shops (OSS) in Cornwall has been well debated with many being taken on by local town councils. In Helston’s case, I and my other two former Cornwall Councillors, Judith and Phil, with support of the other local members in the Community Network Area fought hard to make sure all out services stayed open.

The good news for Helston and the surrounding are is the OOS, Library and DWP office would relocate under one roof in a refurbished Helston Library. Therefore, safeguarding future services which have been under immense pressure from cuts in funding. Readers can remind themselves HERE.

However, before that refurbishment can take place, Helston Library has to temporarily relocate to the OSS at Isaac House. Helston Library will therefore be moving to Isaac House on the 16th and 17th of August and will be open for business on the 18th of August.

The opening hours from Monday 21st August will be:

  • Monday, Wednesday and Friday – 9:30am till 5pm
  • Tuesday and Thursday – closed
  • Saturday – 10am – 1pm

I have been informed the new co-located services will be open to the public by the end of November.


One Stop Shop and Jobcentre office to be located into Helston Library

There has been a lot of speculation on the future of libraries, One Stop Shops in Cornwall. For Helston and the surrounding area, these vital services have been located at two different locations in Helston.

To add into the mix, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP or Jobcentre) have been looking at its long-term commitment in Helston and had recently announced various offices that were under review  – which included Helston.

Myself and my fellow local Cornwall Councillors have argued all three of these services are vital, and it would be a huge blow to Helston, Porthleven and the surrounding area if they could no-longer access these services.

After various meetings with officers about the future of these services, I am pleased to say in a message from two portfolio holders which cover the council services and localisum, they have confirmed the long-term future of the Library, One Stop Shop services and Jobcentre by moving the latter two into the Library. As follows:

“In Helston the Jobcentre will be sharing premises with the library.  This will preserve access to the Jobcentre and ensure the library has a flexible space that will allow it to deliver a modern service.  It will also mean we are able to extend the library’s opening hours.  The Information Service that is currently delivered from Isaac House will be moving to Helston Library too, making it easier for people to access more services in one place.”

This is excellent news and I am pleased the views of local Cornwall Councillors have been taken into account and we have protected three vital services in Helston. My understanding is the Registration Services, which offers Weddings will remain at Isaac House. Issac House is not owned by Cornwall Council and is owned privately.

Cornwall’s Library Visits and Issues

When there is talk of libraries and the hours they open, especially if there is a suggestion of reduction of hours or dare I say it, a closure; people tend to get very protective over the service, even though they may not have used the service often. However, in the current financial situation the Council faces, the library service provision will have to change. I have said it before; you cannot take near £196m in funding cuts and not have it affect services.

Cornwall Council is now six months on from its decision to reduce library opening hours. I thought it would be interesting to understand if these reductions of opening times have had an impact on the library service both in number of visits and the number of books issued. Let’s start with the number of visits over the last three years. For the period of 2011/12 there were 2,656,885 visits; 2012/13 – 2,471,442 visits and for 2013/14 – 2,415,350 visits. As you can see, there has been a steady reduction of visits over the last three years.

Looking at the six months before the opening hours reductions there were 1,054,819 issues and 1,042,111 visits. This period is:

Dec – 164,832 issues / 154,039 visits; Jan 195,268 issues / 187,756 visits; Feb 182,487 issues / 173,782 visits; March 173,640 issues / 182,962 visits; April 169,749 issues / 167,386 visits; May 168,843 issues / 176,186 visits

Let’s now look at six months after the opening hour’s reduction and the same period the previous year:

June 159,238 issues / 154,039 visits; July 193,143 issues / 181,414 visits; Aug 190,671 issues / 185,734 visits; Sept 164,703 issues / 164,066 visits; Oct 166,857 issues / 164,066 visits; Nov 149,655 issues / 154,460 visits. This is a total of 1,024,267 issues and 854,142 visits.

Same period previous year:

June 193,472 issues / 190,698 visits; July 232,279 issues / 226,999 visits; Aug 246,075 issues / 235,063 visits; Sept 210,698 issues / 204,725 visits; Oct 170,570 issues / 208,280 visits; Nov 189,351 issues / 192,345 visits. A total of 1,242,445 issues and 1,258,110.

Now as you can see, there has been a 21% reduction of issues for the same period, but a 47% reduction of visits. If you look at the previous and post six month period the number of issues has dropped by 2.8% and the visits by 18% The evidence from the staff say customers are coming to the library and borrowing more. It is interesting to also note, Cornwall Council is in line with the national trend in reduction of visits and book issues.

As technology moves on, the library service has also seen a shift from traditional hardcopy issues to E-books and online resources. The number registered E-book users ‘live’ since April 2014 stands at 3764 and E-audio book (since April 2014) 1091. As for online resources (searches) the figure stood at 117,488 in 2012/13; 277,110 in 2013/14. I believe this type of useage will increase as devices become more affordable and the next generation sees using E-readers and the like as the norm and part of every day use.

No-one saying the reduction of hours has not had an effect on the number of visits, or the number of issues. However, I feel it is far better to have reduced opening hours, rather than closing libraries. Which the Council has so far avoided. Furthermore, and this is my personal view, I think we will see more of a ‘channel shift’ to electronic means of accessing data and books and Council must also move with the times and user demand. This might result in the current provision changing further.

Of course all this could have been avoided if the Council was not having to deal with huge financial pressures due to reduced Government funding. The whole Council is having to adapt, and I don’t think there is one department at the Council not having to change how it provides a service. Take for example Children’s Service which I have responsibility for. This service is having a 23% reduction in cash terms on its budget with increasing demands.

The Future of the Mobile Library Service in Cornwall

A review of the Council’s mobile library service has been undertaken. The review was two parts; the usage and reducing costs due to the huge budget pressures the Council now faces. The last major review of the stops / service was seven years ago in 2006/7.

The cost of the current service is £220,000 per year and stops at 655 locations. The average number of visits per stop is 3.65 over the last year. For Porthleven the total number of visits in the five stops Porthleven currently has is 27.53. This is further broken-down of users for Porthleven:

  • Porthleven School – 3.24
  • Atlantic Inn – 2.83
  • Sunset Drive – 8.17
  • Torleven Road – 2.45
  • Porthleven Harbour -10.83

mobile LibAs you can see, the total usage in Porthleven is above the average if you combine all the stops together. However, only two stops have usage that makes the stops viable.

Today at the Council’s Cabinet, there were three options put forward. The most drastic was to stop the service completely. This is not an option I support. During the debate both within the Cabinet and the non-Cabinet members valid points were put forward on the merits of be mobile library service and elements should be retained.

The Cabinet decided that Option Three would be supported by a vote of 9 to 1. I supported this as it gives savings put also allows a mobile library service in Cornwall.

Option Three is 1 countywide mobile library van, the following criteria has been used in order to reduce the number of stops to a manageable level:-

  • Removal of stops where the average number of visits per stop over the last financial year is less than 3;
  • Where an existing stop is within 3 miles of a branch library or within 2 miles of another mobile library stop or micro library, the stops have been combined or removed;
  • Where stops have been combined, the new stop has been situated at the previous busiest stop in a locality although this would require local consultation to determine whether another local venue would be more mutually acceptable;
  • Frequency of visits to stops is monthly and duration 20 minutes per stop.

Applying this criteria reduces the number of stops to 172 across the county. Porthleven will see under Option 3 a mobile library service visit the Harbour Head. I need to point out that this service would stop if there is a community hub library. However, I believe having a community hub-library could result in a better provision for Porthleven – which I will cover next.

In Option 3, there is also funding up to £1,000 for communities to form a hub style library. I have blogged about this before and the idea has been supported by Porthleven Town Council. I have registered Porthleven’s interest in this scheme. I am now looking at suitable locations in Porthleven. This includes town council owned facilities; community facilities and churches, chapels and places of worship.

The decision today will not be popular to some, but the mobile library service like many other service are going to change and / or stop. You cannot find £196m and think services will continue at the same level. In the next few years, decisions like the one today will be made.

Could Porthleven have its own hub-library?

Cornwall Council has started a journey which will be painful. There is no hiding from it, as the funding cuts thrust upon the Council are eye-watering. £196m has to be found from the budget. This is on top of the £170m from the previous four years.

One of the many changes will be to the mobile library provision. This provision will change, as the service will either stop completely, or be heavily reduced. This will affect Porthleven who current has a mobile library provision. However, whilst I accept those using it value the service, it is not well used.

This got me thinking and I thought why doesn’t Porthleven have its own mini-library. This would be a facility of a few hundred books, but with the ability to order books online, or by phone and have them delivered to the library hub. Depending on where the mini-library is situated, a computer could be supplied too. However the Internet connection would have to be supplied and the running costs would have to be met by the host building.

To set all this up, Cornwall Council will make  grants available up to £1000 to help set up the facility. This would be a one-off cost, and the further running costs except books, would be met by the host building. It would also need a few volunteers to help run the facility.

I recently presented this idea to Porthleven Town Council during their monthly meeting. The town council fully supported the idea, and asked for this idea to be taken forward.

From this positive start, I will now start the ball rolling by talking to Cornwall Council, looking at possible locations, and seeing who will volunteer to help run this facility.

I started off this post by highlighting the negative of the funding cuts. However, from these cuts, and with community support, Porthleven could actually have a better library provision.  Or should I say have its own library.

Changes to library and OSS opening hours

I have said this many times before, but I will repeated it just to make sure people start to understand the position Cornwall Council finds itself in with the budget reductions. The Council has to find £196m in savings in the next four years. This is on top of the £170m previously found. The previous amount was found – just, but this time it will be a lot more difficult and will mean services provision will change, or in some cases stop completely.

I know the service area I cover in my portfolio has seen reductions and stopping of services. It is not nice, and if things funding wise were different, I would not be having to make those difficult choices. But we do, as the £196m is a real game changer, and we cannot do it by a few tweaks here and there.

The Children’s Portfolio is not the only area to feel the pressure, as other portfolios will see changes.

One of the changes to another service is to library and one stop shop (OSS) opening hours. This is being done to make the savings required, but more importantly, stops the Council from actually closing down any of the facilities. You many not like it, but you will like it less if the provision was closed down, and the building sold off. These changes will come into effect on the 1st June 2014

For the Helston area, the library will be closed on Tuesday and Thursday from 1st June. The remaining days the facility will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30am till 5pm; and on Saturday 10am till 1pm. This is a reduction of 25.5 hours per week.

The Helston OSS will also see changes to the opening times. As from the 1st June the OSS will be closed on Wednesday. On the other days – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the OOS will be open 9am till 5pm.  A reduction of 25.5 hours per week. The OSS is not open Saturday or Sunday.

Other areas which have libraries and OOS will also see a reduction, and these are:

Library and OOS new opening times

Library and OOS new opening times

Bookstart Bear, Children and a Portfolio Holder

I have often said getting out and about and meeting people as the Children and Young People Portfolio Holder is a very important part of the role. This week I had the pleasure to meet and hangout with Bookstart Bear at the Truro Register Office. No it was not a marriage ceremony, but to celebrate the work of Bookstart in Cornwall.

The Bookstart programme is run by Booktrust, an independent national charity that encourages people of all ages and cultures to engage with books. This is done with support provided though a unique public/private partnership, that includes funding from the DfE, generous publisher support and the local authority to provide free Bookstart packs to babies and toddlers.

During the last ten years, Cornwall has delivered 100,000 Bookstart packs making the county in the top 5% nationally. This equates to 350,000 free books worth around £1.4m given to children to help inspire a love of reading. It doesn’t stop there either, as well as providing free books, Bookstart facilitates a range of fun activities through Bookstart Bear Club. This club is run in various community spaces with staff offering fun interactive activities including stories and rhymes.

All this is achieved by a trail blazing partnership and one of the first in the country for the Registration Service working with the Library Service and Children’s Service to gift the initial Bookstart pack when parents register the birth of their child. This has since 2010 resulted in 100% gifting of Bookstart packs.

During the celebration event I saw first hand the joy of children taking part in the activities with their parents, seeing Bookstart Bear and all getting a book and sticker. This is a great programme which costs a fraction to deliver in return for huge benefits. I was very impressed with books also being available in dual languages. This helps parents with English as an additional language (EAL) read to their child in both their native language and English.



Cornwall Council’s Most Overdue Library Book?

So which library book is the most overdue from Cornwall Council libraries? Interesting question, and one that was asked via a FOI request (don’t know by whom) back in February.

The answer is:  The complete colour, style and image book and A woman’s place : an illustrated history of women at home both checked out  May 5th in 1995 from Truro Library. Do you have it? If so I am sure Truro library would like it back after 17 years!

For all Cornwall Council’s most overdue books, click HERE.

Social Media Surgeries

Cornwall Council is taking part in a national social media campaign between the 24th and 28th September at various locations around Cornwall. Sadly, it is not being held in that many places. But the reason for this is these are ‘testing-the-water’ events. As if successful, they will be held on a more regular basis and more inclusive locations

I feel like I am preaching to the converted, as if you are reading this, you are probably proficient in the use of social media. However, I am sure we all have friends and family who runaway screaming when you mention social media. This might be through choice, but in a lot of cases it is not.

Social media can be a powerful tool, and is becoming an everyday part of life with the likes of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. The Government has recently made it easier for ‘citizen journalist’ to get access to council meetings and report directly from them.  Social media is also a good way to keep people and groups informed. I know I can get an important message out very quickly via social media.

The aim of the surgeries is to introduce people to social media. These will be held in four locations and they are being held at:

  • Monday, September 24, Wadebridge Library 5-7pm
  • Tuesday, September 25, Launceston Library 5-7pm
  • Wednesday, September 26, St Austell Library 5-7pm
  • Friday, September 28, Helston Library, 12-2pm
I shall be in attendance at the Helston Library to help offering help and advice (like pitfalls). There will also be Cornwall Council officers there showing how social media can be used to contact the council.
For those who know what the hell I am talking about in the world of Twitter, there will be a 12-hour Tweetathon on Thursday September 27th in line with a national day where local authorities will be tweeting. The official hashtag is #Ourday Cornwall Council will also  be using #CCDay.
My Twitter is @CllrAWallis
And the poster:



Combining Services into One Building

The cuts handed down from central Government were not pleasant. There is no getting away from the fact services will be affected. The trick is making sure these cuts have as little impact as possible. 
One of the areas that have near £1.6 million of cuts over the next four years is Libraries and Customer Services. In other Authorities Libraries and Customer Service points have been simply closed. In Cornwall to avoid this heavy handed approach the Council looked into combining services into one building. I have no issue with this, as long as the service is still the same. In fact it makes perfect sense to cut building running costs by moving services into one building. 
After much public consultation it has been decided that the following One Stop Shops (OSS) will be moved into these Libraries. These are Bodmin, Camelford, Hayle, Launceston, Redruth and St Ives. These moves will not be instant, but will take a few months to make sure the OSS utilise the space in the Libraries.
Now doubt some people will not be happy, but I say it is better to look at the best ways to keep a service than just simply cutting it. This for me is a sensible way forward when the alternative is far worse. 
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