Library modernisation

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Libraries and Cultural Services Strategy

Surrey County Council will work with communities across the county to ensure library services are modernised and remain open.

The strategy for libraries and cultural services sets out Surrey County Council's vision and approach to libraries and cultural services over the next five years.

Surrey County Council was due to embark on an exciting new project - working with communities, stakeholders and staff over the next 12–18 months - to begin shaping a new, fit for purpose, library service in Surrey. We have been carefully considering the impact of coronavirus on this work, and given the need to maintain social distancing, we will need to pause this project for the time being, until we are able to safely run community activities and events as part of this process of 'co-designing' Surrey's libraries. We will continue to monitor the situation and hope to get this exciting project underway as soon as we are able.

Your questions answered

Why do we need a new model for libraries?

  • Our libraries are more expensive than comparator libraries and we need to reduce cost and increase income.
  • Additionally, book loans and visits are falling, users' and residents' requirements are changing and there are many partners in the public, private and community sector who want to work with us.
  • We also want to ensure that we are offering the most modern library service possible and increase the impact of the service across a number of outcomes that are important to residents.

Dave Hill, Director of Children, Families, Lifelong learning and culture at Surrey said: "Libraries are more than just bricks and mortar, they offer a service to a community and that service will work best when it's shaped in collaboration with that community. We don't want to stop the provision of library services in the communities that they currently serve. We might move locations and we might shape things differently but ultimately we want to keep the library services accessible. The number of people visiting libraries simply to borrow books is falling and we know that events and activities in libraries attract more people. Our plans to work with communities, to shape a new library service that works for them, will help halt this decline and breathe new life into our libraries."

For more information please read the 26 November 2019 Cabinet Report.

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Does this mean my local library will close?

Surrey County Council is planning to work closely with communities across the county to ensure their library services remain open with an updated library service that works for them. There are 52 libraries across Surrey now and the Council want to keep library services in each of the communities that they serve.

We are not looking to stop the provision of library services in the communities that they currently serve. We might move locations and we might shape things differently. Libraries are more than just buildings – they're a service to the community – a service that works best when it is shaped with the communities which is serves.

What is the time-table for the changes?

  • We will be implementing the strategy over a five year period.
  • We will develop specific proposals for individual libraries and the service as a whole over the next 12 – 18 months through a process of engagement and co-design with staff, residents and national and local partners.
  • This will be followed by formal consultation where there are specific proposals for changes to library provision in each District and Borough.

What will be different in libraries?

Our libraries will continue to deliver our current offer but we will seek to make the spaces as flexible as possible to support more events, activities and programmes delivered by partners and communities. Horley Library is a recent example of a new flexible space that has attracted a significant number of new users and supports a lively programme.

We will be looking to develop a Library Plus model in some of our largest of our largest libraries

What will be different in Library Plus libraries?

  • We will be looking for partners to co-locate in our larger libraries where appropriate. These could involve other public sector providers such as maternity services in Woking or community groups in other places.
  • They will be different from the libraries where we currently share spaces such as Merstham Library and Cobham Library. The design of the spaces will encourage collaboration and joint planning and delivery between us and our partners.
  • Our spaces will be more flexible and adaptable to support a wider range of activities to be delivered by ourselves, our co-located partners and other groups.
  • We will build on our existing programme of activities but we want our spaces to be used by a wider range of people to deliver an animated programme and experience for our users and attract new users.

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How will the community be involved in community-led provision?

  • The Council will engage with local communities over the next 12-18 months to explore relocating some less well used and smaller libraries to community spaces - ensuring they provide the services and activities that the community needs.
  • Ten libraries in Surrey are run and managed successfully by community partners with support from library staff and dedicated volunteers. We will develop a range of types of community led provision as we believe that a one-size-fits-all model of community led provision will not reflect local capacity and need.
  • We will learn from the best of our current community led provision and take account of best practice models of community led provision that have been developed since we set up our Community Partnered Libraries.
  • We will work with local communities to design the most appropriate community-led response for each locality.

Will there be more volunteers delivering services?

We want to involve communities more closely in the design of services on an on-going basis and in delivery of services. The nature and number of volunteer roles will be developed as part of the work with communities' and staff to shape the community led provision. Volunteers are crucial community advocates, assets in the libraries and they gain valuable skills and build relationships through the work that they do there.

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Are you investing in any new technology?

  • We want to invest in our current digital offer to make services more efficient, engaging and accessible, though we realise it won't be accessible for all of our users.
  • We are keen to explore Open Plus technology (swipe cards to enter libraries out of hours) where appropriate to extend opening hours and make them more flexible.

Co design model

What is co-design?

Historically, public sector professionals have designed services and then asked the public what they think. Co-design is an approach that is increasingly used to give citizens the opportunity to be closely involved in shaping the services they use. There are many examples where co-design has resulted in services that more closely meet people's needs across the public sector. We have the opportunity to learn from these examples and employ what works to engage library users, partners (national and local including Boroughs and Districts) and staff to design a modern, efficient library service for the future.

What is the aim of co-design?

  • Understand how people experience and use our library services and the impact we have on outcomes (for them and the wider community).
  • Understand how and why some people/groups are not using our services. Unlock skills and resources from staff and users to help us understand what changes we can make to enable us to achieve more.
  • Build commitment to the new service model through involvement in its creation.

How will the public be involved in co-design?

The public will be invited to work alongside staff to design the new service.

Co-design update January 2020

The council have now finalised the approach to the co-design of the new library service and will be involving communities, staff, Boroughs and Districts and other partners through a phased approach. We will be starting in four localities in February and are in the process of agreeing those with Borough and District partners. We will make the detailed plan public shortly. Whilst the first four localities are working up their ideas for the new library service in their area we will confirm and announce the next localities in which we will be working in future phases.

The co-design process is basically a 'big conversation' in which the council, communities and partners work together to understand what works well in each locality. We will do this through a series of inclusive workshops and events agree how the library service in each locality can be improved, guided by the Library and Cultural Services Strategy: 2020 -25 agreed by Cabinet in November 2019. Events and workshops will be run in libraries and other spaces in the community – we are keen to hear as many ideas as possible. We want to understand locally how the service is working to meet user needs now, how we can attract more users, how the libraries offer books, hold events, provide IT and other services, how provision of services can be improved, what we can do to improve access (opening hours, building and digital improvements), how our spaces can work better and how we can involve the local community more closely in the planning and management of their local library service in the future.

The schedule of events in the first four Boroughs and Districts will be published on our web-site and in the libraries in those localities. The local community and library users of library services in those localities will be informed about the local programme and how they can get involved and we will work with our local partners to promote involvement in the 'big conversation' as widely as possible.

We know that we will hear many fantastic ideas from communities, library staff and partners through this exercise and will test and refine the best to meet our strategy and our twin objectives of modernising the library service and increasing its impact and reach in communities.

Will the council consult on changes to the service?

Where the co-design process proposes specific changes to library provision and services public consultation will be undertaken where necessary.

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Specific examples

Ashtead library

I've heard that Ashtead Library may have to move out of its current building, due to the NHS (who own the building) wanting to end its lease of the property to Surrey County Council?

Surrey County Council (SCC) lease Ashtead library from NHS Property Services. The two authorities, along with the Clinical Commissioning Group, are working together to review how local services operate within the area. As part of this review, we will be looking to make the best use of our public buildings.

On 26 November 2019, Surrey County Council Cabinet approved a strategy for the future of Surrey's libraries and cultural services. This did not include any specific proposals for any of the libraries, although we want to talk to local people and key stakeholders to develop specific plans which we will consult on when required over the next 12 to 18 months. Therefore, this process will inform the review of services when developing specific proposals in Ashtead.

In January 2019 we completed the consultation on five strategic principles so why has it taken so long to produce a strategy?

  • When making changes to a service that our residents value so highly, it is important that we take our time, to ensure we get it right and communicate it well.
  • We wanted to work closely with boroughs and districts to ensure our thinking was informed by their local knowledge and plans. We also wanted to ensure that we considered a wide range of data and evidence and this process has taken time.

How can I get involved now?

If you have any queries or suggestions, please contact us:

  • email:
  • SMS: 07968 832414
  • write to us at Digital Services, c/o Guildford Library, 77 North Street, Guildford, Surrey GU1 4AL

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