As reported in last week’s Gazette there is great news for our local libraries with Essex County Council confirming, following their consultation, that they will not be closing any in the next five years, and will be investing £3 million in modernising the service.
One of the reasons Essex County Council launched a consultation late last year was because we are not using libraries as we used to. Essex Libraries Service has seen the numbers of book-borrowers fall by 100,000 users in the last ten years, while the demand for e-books, e-magazines and e-audio has risen from 61,000 loans to 186,000.
The consultation was controversial, with many library users in Shenfield, Ingatestone and North Weald fearing their local libraries were under threat of closure if volunteers did not come forward to run them. However, the outcome has been a genuine and resounding validation of how important libraries are to communities – not just for book borrowing and internet use, but as meeting places for group and social activities centred on learning new things. Book clubs, knitting groups, art exhibitions, even cafes and parish councils, share and thrive in the library buildings across our county.
I’ve spoken up for our libraries in Parliament, and the Essex MPs have supported their constituents in making sure the County Council listened to all concerns. I met with County Council Leader, Cllr David Finch and our local County Councillors Louise McKinlay and Lesley Wagland who have done a sterling job in feeding back strong local opinions to the County Council.
As many readers know, I taught history before going in to politics so I’m particularly pleased that these local resources have been saved - and I’m over the moon to hear about the £3 million of investment heading their way. Congratulations to the local campaigners who leant their voice to the cause - now everyone has a chance to get involved in shaping the future of their local libraries to ensure we can all enjoy and influence how our libraries work for us in the future.