Hereford Library Users' Group


The Hive, Worcester

A group of Hereford library users visited a most remarkable library recently. In nearby Worcester there is one of the finest state-of-the art libraries in the UK. It opened this July 2012 and has enjoyed a huge surge in library membership since the launch. It is the first of its kind in Europe, from an idea based on a report from the now defunct MLA and the NIACE on co-locating colleges and libraries.

The extraordinary building is a winner of two international awards for the building’s design and sustainability, highlighting the state-of -the-art environmental engineering, delivering a low cost system for all weathers

On four very different floors it contains a quarter of a million books, attractively displayed.

Michel Rosen opened a superb, imaginative children’s library – one of the best in the UK

Anticipating over a million visitors per year it is helping to make the city an attractive destination, with a significant contribution to the local economy

There is 10,000m2 of public space, over five floors, with clever solutions to noise abatement allowing relatively noisy activities to happen without disturbing those undertaking serious study  It has 800 study stations all over the building – good for the general user and student alike

On the ground floor it houses 12 miles of archive collections with online access for researchers and over 26,000 records of historic monuments and buildings, as well as the Worcester Hub that gives access to all the council’s services in a welcoming and comfortable environment

Look out for the landmark, distinctive design – an iconic building that has become a striking new feature of Worcester’s city centre.




New Ross Library and Customer Service Centre now open…..

Herefordshire Council’s newly refurbished Ross Library and Customer Service Centre is now open to the public. The newly combined service is being officially opened on National Libraries Day and to celebrate this, a wealth of celebrated writers will be attending the event.

Popular local authors Phil Rickman, Rebecca Tope, Carol Peacock, Quentin Letts; and Jon and Heather Hurley will be joining in celebrations for the official opening of the refurbished centre, which now boasts a new exhibition space, new library area as well as a suite of customer service points.

Work from Herefordshire’s Young Poet Laureates will be on display and Bookstart bear will be at a special storytime for under 5s at 2pm. The celebrations kick off from 11.30am with the official opening at noon and all friends and supporters are welcome.

For the whole of February, Herefordshire Council’s library service is offering a voucher for a free rental of an audio book, a DVD or a game if you introduce a new member of your family or a friend to the library, and what’s more they will get a voucher too. There will also be special National Libraries Day postcards asking people to say what they love about their library.

Customers are encouraged to visit the centre to see the wide range of surgeries designed to support the needs of the local community. Surgeries are held weekly and will be showcased across the launch week on the following days:

• Councillor surgery – Saturday 4 February 10am to 11am

• Housing advice surgery – Wednesday 8 February from 9.30am

• Planning applications surgery – Thursday 9 February 2pm to 4pm

Councillor Roger Phillips, Herefordshire Council’s cabinet member for enterprise and culture, said: “In Herefordshire, we are fully committed to keeping all of our libraries open and sustainable into the future which is why we have combined our library service customer services team. “This reduces our running costs and means we can keep all of our permanent libraries open, unlike many other authorities who have been forced to close these vital community services.

“We have also been able to use the old shelving at Ross library, which had to be removed because it would not fit the reconfigured space, to improve the facilities at both Bromyard library and the children’s library at Hereford.

“I am delighted we have such a wealth of popular writers coming along to the official opening and I hope as many residents as possible will come along to meet them as well,” he added.

Councillor Philip Price, Herefordshire Council’s cabinet member for corporate services and education, said: “As part of our strategy to provide better services for customers, this new centre will provide a one-stop shop for residents who want to take out library books or use the council’s other services such as advice on housing and making planning applications.

“By combining the library and customer services centre, we have reduced our running costs while still ensuring residents enjoy the same level of service,” he added.


Lewisham’s Community Libraries are not performing well….

Readers of this website may remember that we reported on the events in Lewisham back in November 2010 (see London Borough of Lewisham – not more Library cuts! November 12th 2010). Well, this week the Bookseller has reported on the latest state of play in this south-east London borough and the situation is not good. Five libraries were threatened with closure a year ago but are still operating – three, Grove Park, Sydenham and Crofton Park are now run by a computer re-cycling firm, Blackheath Village Library has transferred to the nearby charity Age Exchange and New Cross Library is being run entirely by local volunteers. In all five branches, issues have dropped dramatically for example, by 81% at Grove Park and by 89% at Blackheath for the month of October 2011.  Local library campaigners had been anticipating a drop in figures but are shocked by these results which were reported at a recent Council meeting. It appears that the Council are running a two-tier system in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act.

One library campaigner has commented that in 2010, there were some 92,000 visits to the Blackheath Village Library alone. Now these appear to be down to 700 visits per month – a considerable decrease in the footfall.  The same library issued some 5,044 books in October 2010 but only issued 572 books in October 2011. This represents a huge drop in issue figures of roughly 89%. (I got the calculator out to check this!). Of course, this depends on how Lewisham Council calculated the footfall and issue figures in the first place, and how accurately these figures have been kept during 2011.

However, the 92,000 visits which took place to the Blackheath Village library in 2010 must have resulted in a fair bit of trade for the local shops and post office. Blackheath still retains a nice “villagy” feel with lots of little independent shops and eateries. Much visited by folk on the way to Greenwich Park with its Observatory, Greenwich Meridian, National Maritime Museum and Naval College, it is a popular part of South East London. Why Lewisham should have wanted to close this little library in the first place puzzles us as it was popular with all the locals and visitors too who came not only to visit the library, but eat in local restaurants and shop at local shops. Once a place loses its library and its post office, then trade to local shops is affected and they too start to close down. Did Lewisham Council consider any of this?

In short, Libraries are good for local trade – an improved Hereford Library, or better still, a Hereford Centre with cafe, Tourist Information, CAB, and other social amenities contained within could work wonders for footfalls in the city.


Future Libraries Programme… how this might affect Herefordshire…an update

Late in 2010 Herefordshire together with Shropshire participated in this programme initiated by the MLA on behalf of the DCMS – it was one of the first initiatives of the new Coalition government with respect to libraries. Members of HLUG and other library friends took part in some of the discussions. A report was published by the MLA in the spring of this year, but oddly, no version of it was ever made public locally. However one can look at the report on the MLA web page: and then search under “Future Libraries Programme” for the report on Herefordshire and Shropshire dated March 11th 2011

The ‘Headline’ improvements are listed as follows :


Taking account of these different options (as listed in the full report), the recommended way forward for a future library services framework in Herefordshire and Shropshire is, in summary to:

1) Develop/continue to redesign library services to be at the heart of ‘community hubs’ in Hereford, Shrewsbury and market towns to drive and support the local policies.

 Library services have submitted a list of improvements, which, we are told, is not unlike that prepared by HLUG. Outside Hereford, Ross has been refurbished and work starts soon on the Masters House in Ledbury.

2) Consider redesigning rural library services, including through restructuring/reducing mobile services to focus on those communities and individuals most in need (i.e. with least alternative access to library services).

 Mobile library services in Herefordshire have been discontinued but the number of people now receiving the Home Delivery Service (identified by social services) has doubled to about 200.

3) As part of the localities approach, and led by localities managers, encourage and enable community organisations and resident volunteers to become involved in running libraries and supporting access to library services, through a partnership approach.

  Herefordshire has now embarked on discussions with a number of village communities/parish councils about setting up community library centres, staffed largely by volunteers (as in Peterchurch). Several schemes are in the planning stage, and some are applying for external grant funding to aid start-up. The Council’s Funding Development Officer has confirmed with “Awards for all” that schemes will meet their criteria for applications. Concerned about stock being spread more thinly, we have been assured that extra stock will be bought for each new community library – which will be supplemented by local contributions. Some schemes are looking at the book element as being an additional part of what is already being offered. For example, one scheme may operate in a village hall, to overlap with an Age UK lunch at the start of the afternoon and hometime at the village school later in the afternoon with tea and coffee available. Another may operate from a room in the village shop which already has a coffee machine on-site. The schemes are clear that they will offer access to books but will sign-post people to the main Herefordshire Library Service for further details.

Also see entry of October 17th on this blog entitled “What do the Council mean by Community Libraries?” HLUG are very wary!

4) Set up a digital project task group to improve user services and reduce back office costs. This would work up proposals for shared back office and specialist functions, around the introduction of new digital front-line and support services (i.e. on joint LMS/Stock management/RFID system) with joint procurement to deliver these.

  Library management is exploring this with a number of adjacent authorities, not necessarily Shropshire.

5)  Improve ongoing collaboration through sharing emerging localities approaches and other good practice, and improving ad-hoc arrangements across boundaries for joint activities and promotion.

  Similarly – early days, but enquiries and discussions are taking place.

6) Establish a Library Services Partnership Board across Herefordshire and Shropshire to provide strategic leadership and oversee the implementation of the above recommendations for a future library services framework.

   This will realize the benefits of joint working through:

  • Ÿ  On-going collaboration through the development of common localities approaches, sharing learning from these and other good practice, and instigating formal and ad-hoc arrangements across administrative boundaries for service improvement
  • Ÿ  Agreeing, commissioning and monitoring specific shared service(s) on joint LMS/Stock management/RFID systems to support new digital and joint library membership arrangements
  • Ÿ  Member involvement and strategic leadership, with the ability to link to other cross authority governance arrangements e.g. The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), supported by joint officer group.

The Library management tells us that service and staff development, improved efficiency and improving the library service are to be their guiding principles. The focus is to be on eBooks, learning events and activities, local history provision, work clubs and volunteering. Joint library management systems, and joint or dual use membership are also to be considered.

What the list of recommendations for Herefordshire did not mention is, however, one of the key features of the Future Libraries Programme overall recommendations which, having the full approval of the DCMS looks like being the way forward for many library services.

This is the hiving off of libraries, together with other cultural services into a non local government body. The favourite route that is emerging is the setting up of a so-called Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), which is registered as a charity and therefore escapes taxation not least local business rates. Suffolk County Council has just announced that they propose this scheme for all their libraries, despite considerable unease from local users and experts. A number of other authorities are exploring this route, including Herefordshire.

A senior officer of the council is currently conducting an enquiry into ‘Options for Cultural Services’.  Amongst the options being considered are:-

  • A merger with other local authority services – as, for example, with the Local Enterprise Partnership mentioned above.
  • Conversion to a charitable trust – this might ‘externalise services to an outside organisation’.
  • Set up a private company or social enterprise operating as a business.
  • A joint venture company or partnership with an existing operator. One such company, American owned, is currently talking to a umber of local authorities, claiming that it can run library services cheaper that the local government, i.e. cutting cost by reducing labour costs.
  • Retain within the local authority, but, perhaps with ‘rationalization’.

This investigation aims to reach a conclusion by the end of the year so that it may be submitted to the Herefordshire Council Cabinet, for implementation in 2012.

For those who may be interested in the background to these proposals, the Public Library online website is recommended for its very useful summary of  Trusts and Social Enterprises,  which spells out the pitfalls in these developments. HLUG Members are very uneasy about some of the above proposals.

Libraries have long been protected by the Public Libraries Act of 1964, which asserts the requirement for local authorities to provides a library service, adequate to local needs. This has been the bulwark that library users stand by in defending local library services. However, in a recent high-profile confrontation leading to a case in the High Court, Brent Council wishing to close down a number of their branch libraries, were resisted by local library users, backed by some very well know authors (Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett) who took to the law. A High Court Judge deemed that Brent Council were within their rights in closing the libraries because they could show that they were still intending to fulfil the terms of the Public Libraries Act by providing an adequate service from fewer libraries, the central library being enhanced to meet needs.

Taken as a precedent this could be interpreted in a county like Herefordshire as closing down, not just mobile libraries, which they have already done, but some branch libraries.  Of course the Council’s option of improving the Hereford Library is severely limited by the nature of the Broad Street building which does not allow much scope for improvement.

These are turbulent times for readers, and library users. Bookshops are closing at a faster rate than in any previous period.  Library closures are threatened – some have already taken place, or have been transferred out of local government authority (notably in Lewisham)**. Book stocks in libraries are declining, with purchases well down on previous years. And currently there has been a dramatic fall in book sales through retail outlets. Of course, commentators point out: e-books usage is rising quite dramatically and online access to information is replacing the need to use books.  But the fact remains that reading for information education or just entertainment is as important as it has ever been in this increasingly complex world.

Libraries continue to demonstrate that they can be crucial community hubs. CIPFA, the local authority statistical source, whilst reporting on declining library figures, has highlighted that children’s books are ever more popular and that the role played by them in spreading literacy is vital, with the Reading Agency reaffirming that the library plays a central role in this. And just look what happens when a city or town puts its mind to opening a really first class library that is also a vital community centre: visitor figures in places like *Birmingham, Newcastle and  Norwich continue  to rise and show that library visiting is a vital part of community life.

The Hereford Library Users Group still believes, even in these straightened times, that the city’s regeneration would be magically enhanced by a striking new library/community centre, fit for a 21st century purpose.

** Previous entries on this site explain a little about the situation in Lewisham, Gloucestershire and Somerset as well as Suffolk.

* See items on this website on all of these three Libraries, plus authorities such as Manchester. Shows what can be done with a bit of imagination and good planning.



Blackpool Library bucks the trend…

Whilst searching the news pages of the Guardian yesterday, an interesting article about Blackpool library turned up. The local council is taking the enlightened step of investing more than £1,000,000 into its central library, with another £2m from the big lottery fund helping to revamp the grade ll-listed Carnegie library building. The library is over 100 years old, but now has eight modern coloured glass windows as part of the refurbishment. These flood the building with light. The rather old-fashioned entrance has been re-positioned and opened up and the bookcases are now much lower to create a sense of space. There are spaces where courses are run to help people to return to work, some community areas and a cafe. Wheelchair users now have access and the building has been made environmentally friendly. Last but not least, the library offers a home delivery service to housebound readers. Naturally, the number of visitors to the building have increased and locals are delighted with the new service.

In short – another success story – more details on:

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