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Date set for debate on the future of libraries

Needs Assessment report outlining future of service to be discussed

A VITAL report that outlines the future of West Berkshire’s library service will be discussed and debated by councillors at a public meeting on Thursday, October 20.

As part of its plan to save £730,000, West Berkshire Council announced hugely controversial proposals to close eight of the district’s nine libraries – leaving just Newbury open.

Campaigners argued that those plans would see the council failing to fulfil its statutory duties to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

It is still not clear whether the original proposal was legal, but the council was later told by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that it must carry out a Needs Assessment before closing any of its libraries.

After a massive public backlash and widespread criticism from leading authors and campaigners, the council agreed to use £475,000 of the transitional funding it received from central government to change the proposals.

It is now looking to close two libraries – Theale and Wash Common – and pass on the responsibility of running others to volunteers and community groups.

The Needs Assessment report was conducted by data collection firm RedQuadrant earlier this year and the findings have been reported back to West Berkshire Council.

Councillors will be able to discuss the report at their executive meeting on Thursday, October 20.

It will then go out to a six-week public consultation to ask people for their views before being decided by full council at a later date.

The aim of the assessment is to inform how the library service should be developed in the future.

It is based on a wide range of information, including data on how it is currently used and the demographics of communities.

West Berkshire Council said that, over the next year, the library service would “have to change” following a significant reduction in government funding.

The council is currently considering a range of options, including fewer branch libraries, an increase in self-service or libraries run by local communities.

It said that no decisions will be taken until later this year and that all branch and mobile libraries remain open as usual in the meantime.

Hilary Cole, the executive member for culture, previously said: “We can’t afford to keep our library service as it is so what it offers and how it is run will need to change.

“Our aim is to find a sustainable model which allows us to provide a good library service whilst still living within our means each year.”

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