New plan to help libraries survive
LIBRARIES will be used as hubs for community events to help safeguard their future.
They are also set to offer free wireless internet and electronic downloads as part of a bid to provide value for money.
Cheshire East Council has drawn up a strategy for its 18 libraries to ensure they are fit for purpose.
The move comes as budgets are squeezed and an increasing number of people convert to reading books on electronic tablet devices.
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The authority said it is satisfied its libraries, including those in Alsager, Crewe, Congleton, Nantwich and Sandbach, provide value for money.
But it will continue to review those with the poorest usage and has not ruled out moving them into shops, sports centres, village halls or churches in the future.
The council also plans to cut the number of mobile libraries from three to one and scrapping stops within two miles of library buildings.
But it will consider providing books in other community buildings.
Plans to safeguard the libraries, which receive 1.8 million visitors and issue three million books a year, include promoting them as 'community anchors' for hosting events and meetings.
Free wireless internet access and e-book downloads will also be considered, while schools will be urged to make more class visits and computer sessions will be provided for residents to improve IT skills.
Ernie Clarke, pictured below, chairman of Buglawton Community Group in Congleton, backed plans to get more young people into libraries.
He said: "The library here is very well-used and it would be a catastrophe if it did ever have to close."
The council's libraries budget has fallen from £3.8 million when the authority was formed in 2009 to about £3.5 million and five library posts have been lost.
But upgrading to electronic self-service points has freed up staff to run community activities and £240,000 has been saved by moving council customer service points into library buildings.
A total of almost 2,000 members of Cheshire East's citizens panel gave their views on the borough's libraries as part of the strategy.
More than 80 per cent of those who use the service said they were satisfied with it, while 83 per cent said they use libraries mainly for borrowing books and multimedia.
The council said: "The strategy is not proposing radical changes to the library service.
"They key challenge is to continuously improve and modernise the way we deliver the service to keep pace with evolving customer needs and aspirations."
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has made major cuts to libraries across the city by reducing its budget from £4.1 million in 2007/08 to £3.4 million this year.
It has closed libraries in Burslem and Fenton and reduced the number of librarians from 16 to nine.
Staffordshire County Council's libraries budget has fallen from £11.9 million in 2007/08 to an estimated £10.9 million this year.
The number of full-time library posts has reduced from 301 to 249 over the same time, including a cut of 13 professional librarians.