CONSULTATION on the future of Staffordshire's library service begins on Wednesday - amid assurances that it will not be a closure programme.
Thousands of people are expected to have their say online, by post, or at one of 47 face-to-face sessions across the county.
Over the next 12 weeks Staffordshire County Council is visiting every library in the county at least once to talk to people about ideas for the future said Mike Lawrence, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Communities and Localism.
But he says radical changes are necessary.
"Libraries have already changed a great deal in the last decade, but user numbers are still falling.
“We need to change, radically, over the next three years to reinvigorate our libraries so they are better used within their communities, as well as developing the online service, but I must emphasise this is not a closure programme - we understand their value and their importance and we are committed to them remaining a valued part of local life.”
“I expect a lot of people will come to the meetings to find out more and have their say, but with online and postal comments I think thousands of people will have their say.
“It’s crucial we hear from library users and non-users alike, as well as anyone who lives, works or studies in Staffordshire.
“The intention is to encourage people to think about a different, more flexible service and whether the current ideas represent the best way to ensure libraries serve their purpose in 10, 15, or 20 years’ time.”
The three types of library being suggested for the future have been dubbed: "library extra", "library core" and "library local".
The proposal would mean the county council would continue to provide a full service through
"library extra" and "library core" and it is expected that the "library extra" will share space and facilities with a wide range of other services.
"Library local" wopuld be the most localised service, with the community deciding what it wants and then delivering it, with county council support. This would vary from one place to another and has already been introduced elsewhere in the country.
The proposals also include investment in the online offering to improve the service’s usability, look and feel, and compatibility with more electronic devices.
Public meetings include drop-in sessions at each of the county’s 43 libraries, presentations with Q&A sessions and workshops for groups interested in taking over the running of a ‘library local’.
Mike Lawrence said: “We’ve already looked at ideas from other areas and recommendations by Arts Council England and we think this is a good way to safeguard our libraries, but we want to know people’s thoughts.
Details of public and online consultation will be available on Wednesday in each library.