BIG changes to how and when people can access libraries across the town will come into force next month.
From April 5, libraries in Covingham, Liden, Moredon, Old Town, Penhill, Pinehurst, Upper Stratton and Wroughton will be open for just 15 hours per week. Even Swindon Library is already open for just 10 hours a week and that will remain unchanged.
However for much of the time there will be no staff in the buildings - staffed hours are being reduced to 47.5 per week for the Central Library while the other four sites will only be staffed for15 hours each initially.
West Swindon and Central Swindon South shadow parish councils have said they will fund additional staffed hours for the Park and West Swindon libraries. Highworth Town Council has made the same commitment for their library.
Swindon Borough Council is planning to fit electronic access systems to the aforementioned five buildings to allow the public access when staff are not on site.
The technology will be installed on a phased basis from April. Library users will need to register to use self-serve access and training will be provided.
The changes follow a year of debate around how Swindon’s library service would be run in the future. The council will withdraw funding from all but the core five libraries from August.
Community groups have been encouraged to come forward with plans to run the remaining sites past that point and have until the end of the month to submit full business cases.
Walcot Library is currently subject to a community bid that will see it turned into more of an IT facility with limited book availability - if that bid is approved then it would continue to operate its already limited staffed hours as before.
Mary Martin, cabinet member for communities, said: “These are significant changes to the library service. We have looked closely at how best to structure the service and I am extremely grateful for the comments we received from Swindon residents during last year’s review.
"I am confident that we will deliver library services that make the best use of our financial resources, technology and staffing to meet most library users’ needs - in particular the extended hours provision which will allow more flexible access to a wider range of people.
“I am also delighted we have received such positive interest in our community library provision and that local parish councils have shown such great support for their local libraries.”
There will also be a number of changes to library charges from April 5.
These will include a small charge for reading groups ordering large numbers of the same book, an increase in fine fees, an increase in DVD rental charges and the re-introduction of reservation charges.
As a result of the changes to staffed and unstaffed opening hours, some groups that currently use the libraries will need to find a new place to meet.
The council says it is committed to rescheduling activities in order to accommodate them within the new opening hours however with such a reduction it is inevitable that some will no longer be able to run as they currently do.
Furthermore, all libraries will be closed for four days from April 1 for staff training, stock relocation and to prepare for the extended opening hours.
Full information, including opening times, can be found in local libraries or on the council’s website at www.swindon.gov.uk/librariesfuture