• Cuts to opening hours and mobile services: the consequences

Councillors have been brought face-to-face with the effects of last year’s library service cost-cutting measures, in which opening hours were cut by a third and the mobile library fleet was trimmed back.

Statistics on library usage during 2011-12 were presented to Hertfordshire Local and Libraries panel members on Friday. Read the report for yourself here.

They show that, because the changes happened mid-year, library opening hours only effectively fell by 25 per cent in 2011-12 compared with in 2010-11. Usage over that period was down by 18.8 per cent, compared with the previous year’s fall of only 4.4 per cent. This is almost triple the fall shown in the most recent national figures, which show a 6.7 per cent decline in national library use between 2006 and 2011.

The figures also reveal that the cost-cutting measures saved £1,716 per every 1,000 people in Hertfordshire – a percentage saving of 9.4 per cent overall. The report points out that a further saving will be made in 2012/13 when the “service transformation” is applied to a full year.

The report says: “The percentage drop in usage is less than the reduction in opening hours, indicating that many library users have adjusted their patterns of use around the new hours, whilst others appear to be making more use of online library services.”

It also concludes that, taking into account the reduction in opening hours from July 2011, the number of library visits per open hour increased by 7.8 per cent from 41.0 to 44.2, and presents this as evidence that library users have adjusted their visits around the new opening hours.

Issues during the same period have also fallen by 16.2 per cent, a figure that is more than twice as severe as the previous year (6.6 per cent).

Again, the council has looked for evidence of users adjusting to the new arrangements, with the report authors saying: “Taking into account the reduction in opening hours from July 2011, the number of issues per open hour increased by 21.9 per cent, from 45.7 to 55.7, indicating the extent to which library users have adjusted their borrowing patterns.”

Active borrowers – defined as individuals who have borrowed at least one item from Hertfordshire Libraries during the year – have also fallen by 11.4 per cent, compared with a decline in 2010/11 of 5.1 per cent.

Users are also shown to be making more use of online library services with a 9.1 per cent increase in visits to the library service web pages, compared with a 4.8 per cent increase in 2010/11. This may well also reflect the increasingly wide range of resources on offer there.

The report concludes by reminding councillors of targets to increase the total number of physical and virtual library use by 5 per cent in 2012/13 which it says will be achieved “through a programme of promotion and community engagement”.

Concerns over Customer Service Centre performance

As well as reviewing these figures, councillors also studied a report on performance issues at the Customer Service Centre (CSC). One of its functions is to handle renewals and direct telephone enquiries for the library service.

They heard of problems at the CSC over the last few months “which have resulted in increased numbers of complaints from the public and considerable concern from Cabinet and local members.”

The report says the council has reviewed its arrangements with service provider Serco “as a result of the recent performance deterioration” and is putting in place more stringent reporting and oversight as a result.

• The next meeting of the Panel will be held on November 12. Papers should be available online approximately a week before.

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