A FINAL decision on whether to close some Hampshire libraries for good is going to be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak – but it will still be made this year, it has been revealed.
Cllr Sean Woodward, cabinet member for recreation and heritage at Hampshire County Council, said a verdict on the future of the county’s 48 libraries expected at the beginning of June will now be delayed, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
A new date has not been set yet but Cllr Woodward stressed that the decision is still expected to be made this summer.
It comes as thousands of residents had their say on proposals by HCC which put at risk branches in Lyndhurst, Milford and Blackfield.
As reported in the A&T, the number of libraries across the county could drop from 48 to 38 and the remainder could see a 15% reduction in their opening hours as HCC aims to save £1.76m by 2021.
The plans also include an option for all 48 council-run libraries to remain open but with their opening hours reduced by 25%.
As part of the public consultation residents were also asked to suggest alternative options which are currently being considered.
“We have had 21,000 responses, the largest number we have ever had. The decision is going to be later than the beginning of June. It is going to be rather later in the summer,” Cllr Woodward added.
Last week the council reported an “unprecedented” 770% weekly increase over seven days in March of people joining the libraries’ digital service as libraries were closed last month due to the pandemic.
Asked what impact the growth in digital service users might have on the final decision over the future of libraries, Cllr Woodward said: “It is certainly something I will be taking into account. I think we have already had that trend.”
It comes as in January this year the county council said the borrowing of digital books and audio from 2016 to 2019 increased by 62%, while the borrowing of print books decreased by 25%.
Cllr Woodward stressed that should the authority decide to propose a change in the libraries’ opening hours there will be another public consultation.
Blackfield and Lyndhurst libraries are among those at risk of closure, while Milford could lose HCC support and be turned into an independent community-managed library – but would shut without enough volunteers.
As reported in the A&T, more than 800 people signed a petition to save Blackfield’s branch. The county-wide plans would put 40-50 jobs at risk.