Agenda item

Library services (75 mins)


The Commission considered a report setting out an update on library services, including an assessment of the improvement work undertaken through Bristol’s Library Innovation Fund and details about the likely future approach to developing a new Library Strategy for the city.


a. Summary of main points raised/noted in discussion of section 1 of the report - Background and key data on library services:


1. Points highlighted by officers in presenting this section of the report included:

- Library budget and building details.

- Improvements carried out through grant funding, including Library Improvement Fund resources from Arts Council England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which had enabled Reference Library refurbishment to take place, creating a flexible event space, restoration and upgrading of historic desks, accessible desks and new exhibition spaces.

- New library developments to be taken forward in Filwood and in Southmead.


2. A point was raised about the fact that a number of years ago, some customer services staff had been located in some libraries for a few hours each week.  It was suggested that this could be put forward as an idea that could be reconsidered from a public service/contact perspective, and which could also perhaps enable certain libraries to remain open for longer hours.  It was noted that this suggestion would be forwarded to the Head of  Citizens Services although it was inevitable that the resource and staffing implications of any future proposal would need to be assessed carefully given the financial situation faced by the Council; it was also noted that this may be an issue that could be put forward for consideration by the relevant policy committee(s) under the new committee model that would take effect from May 2024.


3. Members noted and welcomed the refurbishment of Henleaze library and the proposals to develop new library facilities in Filwood, as part of a £14.5 million upgrade to Filwood Broadway, and in Southmead, as part of the Glencoyne Square development.  In response to a question, officers agreed to circulate details of the initial design brief for a new Filwood library; it was noted that this brief would be subject to significant further design development as the proposals would be taken forward in close collaboration with stakeholders and local residents.

4. It was suggested that in the context of taking forward the new Filwood library proposals, consideration should also be given to liaising with partners with a view to seeking to extend the current opening hours beyond the current 22 hours per week.


5. There was a discussion around the incidence of anti-social behaviour which had unfortunately been experienced in and around some libraries in recent years. It was noted there had been issues in particular at Junction 3 (Easton) and in Filwood, Southmead and Hartcliffe, mainly associated with anti-social teenage behaviour.  Some libraries had used security staff and others, following liaison with the local police and other services, had used a variety of measures aimed at deterring anti-social behaviour, which had included closing some libraries at particular times or adjusting opening hours.  It was noted that officers were determined to ensure that libraries, in offering a universal service, were safe spaces for all users.


b. Summary of main points raised/noted in discussion of section 2 of the report - Bristol’s Library Innovation Fund - projects undertaken and lessons learned:


1. Points highlighted by officers in presenting this section of the report included:

-  The Innovation Fund had offered a total fund of £108,000 across the 27 libraries in the city, divided into two separate streams:

* Stream 1: a ‘Friends Fund’ offering up to £1,000 to support Friends of libraries to establish a group and engage community support for their library.

* Stream 2: an allocation of up to £3,000 for open applications to support ideas which could impact in one or more of the following ways:

• Bringing the library and communities together.

• Improving the space within library buildings.

• Improving how the library service is delivered.


- The evaluation of the use of the Innovation Fund had identified the following issues that could be considered in improving library services:

* Ensuring communication on an ongoing basis with communities and other council departments.

* Making use of library spaces outside of staffed hours.

* Issues around access to library buildings, room bookings and charges, and the inclusion of non-traditional events and activities in library spaces.

* Data collection, to further develop evidence of impact, for both communities and the libraries.

* Engaging young people is essential.

* Continuation of effective working with Friends Groups and community groups.


- The experience gained through three particular case studies was highlighted, in St Pauls library, Bishopston library and Horfield library.


2. In relation to the details about Friends of Libraries groups, a point was raised about the evident disparity whereby Friends groups were active in the relatively affluent parts of the city whilst they didn’t exist at all in some areas of relative deprivation.  It was agreed that as part of taking forward the new Library Strategy, it would be critical to continue the work with communities to encourage and develop a much more comprehensive coverage of Friends of Libraries groups and achieve greater equity in this respect across the whole city.


c. Summary of main points raised/noted in discussion of section 3 of the report - Library Strategy:


1. Points highlighted by officers in presenting this section of the report included:

- Consideration was being given to taking forward the development of a new library strategy; this work was likely to start under the remit of the relevant policy committee that would take effect under the committee governance model from May 2024.


- Key themes and priorities to consider as part of developing a new strategy included:

* Digital services, given the rise in online membership, use of e-books and e-audio.

* Assessing the condition of the Council’s library buildings (linking with Corporate Landlord priorities).

* How library technology could be refreshed and assessing what is needed in this respect.

* Maintenance of advertised opening hours.

* Capital requirements for funding bids, library refurbishments, and potential relocation of spaces.

* Marketing of the service.

* Working in partnership, within Bristol and with LibrariesWest and the South West region.

* Continued community engagement.

* Working with and extending the coverage across the city of Friends Groups.

* Co-delivery of council services through appropriate library buildings.


2. Members generally agreed that, in their view, taking forward the development of a new library strategy should form an early priority for the relevant new policy committee, after May 2024.


3. In the context of the potential themes and priorities for a new strategy, it was suggested, in discussion, that the following issues should also be considered as part of developing a new strategy:


a. Finance and resource availability, and innovation in this context will be paramount considerations, given the ongoing financial situation faced by the Council.


b. The key learning points from the lived experience of utilising the Innovation Fund.


c. Collaboration with partners to ensure best use of space within library services; co-location of services may bring opportunities to extend opening hours.  Innovative/new approaches to shared use of space should also be considered, noting that the Council would be willing to discuss options with any suitable group that was willing to pay to use library space. It was suggested that the approach/model used through Somerset Art Works/Weeks (where artists were willing to pay for exhibition space in libraries)could be explored.


d. Ensuring that libraries offer a consistent ‘open and friendly door’ to residents.


e. In reviewing the condition of library buildings, it will also be important to consider the geographical spread of libraries and review the extent to which libraries are in the ‘right place’, especially in terms of serving the more deprived areas of the city.



At the conclusion of the discussion, members agreed that it would be important to ensure that their comments as documented above were forwarded in due course to the relevant policy committee that would take effect in May 2024.


Supporting documents: