Commercial activities set to be expanded as part of revamped library service

Essex’s libraries will be able to make money from private companies wanting to hold author events and set up cafés, a senior councillor has said, adding commercialisation is not a “dirty word”.

Councillor Louise McKinlay said that as well as making available space for commercial use within libraries she wants to expand some of the other paid-for services available in libraries.

These may include training and some activities take place in libraries such as authors events.

Her comments were made at a Essex County Council cabinet meeting in which the county’s new £2.4m plan for libraries across the county was agreed.

Essex County Council says working to improve literacy for both children and adults, improve communications with Essex residents to tell existing users and new audiences about the full range of services and supporting communities and levelling Up will be at the centre of the Everyone’s Library Service 2022 – 2026 plan.

The county council has also set out how it might charge for some new additional activities such as author events and courses provided by adult education provider, ACL Essex.

She said: “I think it’s right that we take that because remember it’s not a dirty word – commercialising – because it means that money is going back in to help sustain the service and to deliver some of the ambitions.

“So we’ve also got to think about not just the space but also some of the activities like the author events.

“These are things that are already charged for we’re looking at how we can expand more work with ACL.

“There’s a natural link up there I think between the community learning and the libraries.

“Some of those courses are obviously paid for some are not. So it will be a judgement call in terms of how we can work more closely together in that space. And if you look at organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau they very often will co-locate with other organisations.

Essex County Council also proposes to spend £400,000 on six fixed-term posts of 18 months to develop the plan by training its existing workforce and recruiting new talent towards its literacy ambitions, community engagement and outreach, and delivering planning and implementation.

Another £400,000 is being spent on refurbishment and creating dedicated Everyone’s Literacy areas in all 74 libraries to improve literacy skills in adults and children.

Another £1.6m is to be spent on the delivery of other initiatives identified by the delivery planning and implementation lead who will have responsibility for turning the ambitions and proposals in the strategy into benefits for each area of the county.

She added: “Commercialising and getting an income is something that we should welcome and it should not in any way be seen as a threat to the library service.

“It’s actually about complementing it and that income can help us build and to deliver that for the future.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter