Dorset Council is undertaking a second public consultation on the future of libraries in its area including Swanage, with the promise that closing them isn’t part of the plan.
In 2021 an initial consultation set out to discover what local people thought of the services that their library offered, and whether Dorset Council was taking the right approach in a rapidly changing digital world. Now follow up surveys have been launched to drill down into the detail.
Light, airy and welcoming – but not just about books any longer at Swanage
Delighted by response from 7,500 people
In the first consulation, councillors were delighted by a response from more than 7,500 people including 355 from Swanage, who saw libraries as a vital community hub where people were brought together by the need for human contact and trusted advice, as much as the desire to borrow books and read.
Now Dorset Council has identified a range of services that libraries could deliver, some services that needed to be developed or expanded, and some entirely new ideas from encouraging digital learning to cultural enrichment or supporting mental health and wellbeing.
Councillors also want to hear what residents think about making more flexible use of library spaces, which may include hosting community events, or even setting up cafes on site.
Councillor Laura Beddow is encouraging everyone to have their say
We are absolutely not closing branches
Councillor Laura Beddow, Dorset Council’s cabinet member for culture, communities and customer services said:
“We have learned that people really value their libraries and that they are a place where people go to get advice they can trust, connect with others and enjoy a diverse range of activities.
“The idea that libraries are places where you have to be quiet and simply read does not exist in today’s world.
“Ten years from now, I think libraries will still be reassuringly familiar, friendly and trusted places, and there is no future where we are closing branches – that is absolutely not what this exercise is about.
“But we do want to get the best out of our libraries, and the best way to do that is to ask the people who use them for their ideas.”
A familiar and trusted centre in the heart of Swanage
Libraries will evolve to offer new skills
“Their use is changing – book borrowing has been on a downward trend because people can download books on Kindles, buy them cheaply from charity shops, or stream audiobooks.
“That won’t stop libraries from evolving to offer new digital skills like free internet access or coding sessions in a trusted place with a highly valued sense of connection to friends, services and communities.
“As a largely rural county, with 30 percent of our population aged 65 or over, having local access to a friendly, trusted community space to connect is very important.”
Get involved with the survey and have your say on the future of Swanage Library
A survey with no council waffle speak
Already, libraries offer services for younger people like computer coding classes, Lego clubs, talks, arts and crafts, rhyme time for toddlers, board game sessions and even Dungeons and Dragons meetings for teenagers.
But Dorset Council now wants to explore even more ways to make local libraries a real community hub for whole families and this second public consultation includes a survey aimed at getting the views of young people.
“It’s so important that children should get a love of reading from a very young age, and absolutely right that we should ask them about what they want from libraries.
“But it should be like a conversation with them, so we have made sure that the survey is in very human language, with no council waffle speak at all.
“We already know that they would like more music activities, art and craft sessions and digital activities, and we would like them to feel inspired to read and learn when they visit a library.
“We don’t want to be prescriptive about what every library offers – while we can standardise some things, like opening hours, we can also be flexible and allow individual libraries to tailor what they provide for local communities.”
Wareham Library is one of 23 council-run libraries across Dorset
Online service includes e-comics
Within Purbeck there are two council run libraries: Wareham and Swanage and one community managed library at Corfe Castle. There are 23 council-run and eight community managed libraries in the whole Dorset Council area.
In addition to the physical library buildings, Swanage’s residents are able to access the free online library service, which includes digital resources: e-books, audiobooks, e-comics, e-magazines and e-newspapers.
Survey runs until 22nd December 2022
The latest consultation runs until 22nd December 2022, and survey responses will help to refine the draft strategy before it is presented to Dorset Council’s cabinet for sign off in spring 2023.
- As part of the second consulation there are three surveys – one general survey, one aimed at children aged five to 15 and a third for employees. They are all on the Dorset Council website