Just five members of the public turned out to talk about the future of library services in the borough – but does that mean people don’t care about libraries any more? Apparently not.
A public consultation being held in advance of the creation of a 10-year strategy for libraries has already attracted 5,500 responses, and the chance for people to have their say runs on until the end of the year.
Library officials from Herts County Council were at Hemel Hempstead’s South Hill Centre on Wednesday evening to tell people what the service offers now and to ask what the public would like to be offered in the future.
Councillor Frances Button, who looks after the libraries brief at County Hall, said: “I’m disappointed by the number of people that have turned out.”
But she added: “While people aren’t necessarily coming out to meetings on cold November evenings, we have had 5,500 responses – that is hugely encouraging and we are only half way through.”
Following the two hour session where topics included the prospect of community-run libraries, joining forces with partners to share building space, opening hours, promotion and potential money spinners, the councillor added that it was the most lively debate on the subject that she had attended – county officials are holding sessions across Herts – which, she said, proved quality beats quantity.
She said: “The most important thing for us is that the county council uses its money in the way the public wants.”
The council has embarked on the consultation in a bid to safeguard the future of library services and ensure they remain relevant.
And unlike most consultation documents where a series of options have already been drawn up, this one is taking its lead completely from the public.
The plan is to pore over the feedback and then come up with a way forward, which people will again be able to have their say on.
There’s already something in the pipeline for Hemel Hempstead’s town centre library, although library bosses are keeping it under their hat for now.
Assistant director of customer services and libraries Taryn Pearson said: “There are talks with the local authority but they are at the very early stages.
“There are plans – I can’t really comment, but what I have seen are very exciting.”
But, of course, there are other libraries in Dacorum to be considered – Berkhamsted’s is next door to a now empty police station, leaving some worried about what the future might hold should the station be sold for development. Library chiefs are due to meet with Berkhamsted campaign group B-Hive to talk about the future.
Taryn said: “We will come and discuss whatever opportunities are out there.”
The consultation runs until December 31 and can be viewed at www.hertsdirect.org/libraryconsultation.
Drop in sessions are being held at Hemel Hempstead Central Library tomorrow from 10am to noon and on Thursday, December 12 from 5pm to 7pm. There are also sessions at Adeyfield Library on Friday, December 6, 2pm to 4pm and Leverstock Green Library on Tuesday, December 17, 2pm to 4pm.
Hertfordshire has 46 libraries and seven mobile libraries
In the year 2012/2013, there were 3.8 million visits
A total of five million items were borrowed
The online libraries service had 665,000 online visits.