Public library facing cuts to opening hours and books budget

Shetland’s only public library is to reduce its opening times by six hours a week having seen its budget cut by more than a tenth in the past two years.

From April, the council’s Hillhead library in Lerwick will open its doors from 10am instead of 9am between Monday and Saturday.

Library manager Karen Fraser said the two mobile libraries which bring books to rural areas will be “more or less unchanged”, though some runs have been tweaked in an effort to make them more efficient.

She said customers had been consulted about the possibility of changes to opening hours, and following their feedback she had been “quite anxious” to ensure the building remained open on Saturdays and early evenings.

“It’s really important for access,” she said. “This was the one that was the least offensive. 9-10 is our quietest time.”

Meanwhile the library’s budget for buying books is being cut by a quarter to save £15,000, but Ms Fraser said that with “with careful stock management we hope to satisfy reasonable customer expectations”.

There will also be a 15-20 per cent cut, equating to around £3,000, in the book budget for the seven school libraries.

“It will have an effect,” Ms Fraser said, “but I think with careful buying and good stock rotation, customers shouldn’t notice too much difference. We’re able to share stock with the public library and all the school libraries.

“The cut is manageable. We’ve not cut the requests budget, so items people specifically want they should still be able to get.”

Buoyed by the islands’ bumper tourist trade in 2011, including the Tall Ships Races and a very busy cruise ship season, the number of visits to the library rose by over 16 per cent to the highest in Scotland in 2011/12.

Combined spending on the public and school library services in 2013/14 was set at just over £930,000 by councillors last week, trimming £36,000 from last year’s budget. That comes on top of savings of £99,000 the previous year.

Ms Fraser said savings of around 10 per cent in the past 12 months came from a combination of staff cuts and savings from the training, travel, subsistence and equipment budgets.

“The budget’s tight, but we’re doing okay and there’s a reasonable amount of flexibility – we can use a bit of imagination in how we deliver the service,” she said.

Ms Fraser added that while people are increasingly reading books using e-readers such as the Kindle, that was not having a huge impact on the number of people passing through the library’s doors. Internet access on computers is now a “big part” of its service.

“Certainly, there are people often using a Kindle rather than borrowing books,” she said. “But we find that’s maybe people that would be buying books rather than borrowing anyway. By starting to lend e-books, I hope we’ll be able to get a bit of that business anyway.”


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