Plans for Essex libraries by the county council have sent “alarm bells ringing” about increased commercialisation of the service, a campaign group has said.
Essex council chiefs were forced to ditch plans to close 25 of its libraries, vowing none would shut for five years, following a huge community campaign earlier this year. However, it is pressing ahead with making 19 of the facilities community-run.
At a meeting of Essex County Council's Place Services Committee, head of libraries Juliet Pirez spoke about how £1.9m would now be spent on refurbishing some of the local authority's libraries to become community hubs.
She said: “We feel this is an opportunity for us to create some really flexible working spaces that will attract new audiences and partners.”
Pirez talked about changing shelving but also allowing space for theatre workshops, meetings, community wellbeing sessions and co-locating partner organisations in the buildings.
She said: “We can run things like keep-fit classes, IT classes, community meetings and activities and even a cinema club. We're open to all ideas and suggestions. Where possible we also want to put some meeting rooms and meeting points into libraries. That will help us work with partners and also perhaps bring some income into the service.”
A spokesman for Save Our Libraries Essex, said: "The alarm bells are most certainly ringing, as it is clear the county council is investing in a far more commercialised service. Traditional free library services are being binned, with more emphasis on services that will bring in money.”
"Where the investment isn't going is into the smaller libraries. Here the council remains hellbent on turning them into charity shop libraries. Volunteers will not only be expected to staff these libraries, but to run them and house them as well. It is a closure plan by stealth. “
Pirez also said the current library IT system was "clunky and out of date" and has promised a cheaper, more efficient system.