Library smart card scheme ‘in danger of hitting the rocks’

June 26 2018

A scheme to allow people to use libraries using a smart card is “in danger of hitting the rocks,” it has been claimed.

South Gloucestershire Council introduced the Open Access scheme in October last year as it cut staff hours by 30 per cent, to save £500,000 from its library budget.

People who have signed up for a smart card can use it to access libraries when there are no staff on site.

The council says it means people can access libraries for longer. Downend, Staple Hill and Emersons Green libraries can be accessed by card holders between 8.30am and 7.30pm, seven days per week, even though each library is unstaffed for three days each week.    

But in the first six months of the scheme just one in every seven eligible library users - 3,655 in total - had signed up across the authority area.

The council says that numbers are continuing to rise - by the middle of June, 330 people had signed up to use Downend as their main library, with 387 registering at Emersons Green and 214 at Staple Hill.

But figures for the number of times people have actually visited the libraries outside the reduced staffed opening times are not available.

Opposition councillors say they are concerned at the “low level” of take-up for the scheme.

The leader of South Gloucestershire’s Labour councillors, Pat Rooney, says the technology can play a part in improving services but should not be used as “a cover to cut the much-valued library staff”.

She said the numbers signing up represented around 13 per cent of all eligible library users, adding: “It is surely a false economy if cost-cutting changes result in very few residents actually using the new service.

“The Open Access swipe-card system has been in place for several months now, so the low registration levels cannot be casually dismissed as teething problems. Unless the Tories improve the take-up of the scheme, their flagship policy is in danger of hitting the rocks.”

But the Conservative-run council’s cabinet member responsible for libraries, Paul Hughes, said the scheme had been successful and enabled libraries to be open to users for “longer than ever”.

He said: “The libraries are still open with our excellent, qualified staff, who can support people with reading, accessing digital services and encouraging children to read through the many activities on offer, but Open Access gives people a choice of service and the ability to use a library when it suits them.”

The council says it has been monitoring usage and feedback and plans to extend early-morning opening to 8am from July.

For more information on the Open Access scheme, call 01454 868006.