NEARLY half of all council-run libraries across Somerset could be set to close under new cost-cutting plans.

Somerset County Council has launched a consultation over the future of county libraries, which starts on January 29.

Under the plans, 15 of 34 libraries could close unless ‘community involvement’ is found to keep them running.

But if nothing could be arranged, many face closure, being replaced with mobile library services or possible relocation.

Cabinet member for resources and economic development at the county council, Cllr David Hall, said: “These are challenging financial times and we must put libraries on a sustainable financial footing for the long term, while still delivering a modern thriving library service across our county.

“Library services will continue across Somerset whatever the response from this consultation, but our proposals highlight that keeping some libraries open may require community support.

“Where we are unable to keep libraries open, we will deliver library services in other ways such as via alternative venues or mobile library services.”

In Taunton Deane, the future of four libraries is uncertain.

Taunton Library, in Paul Street, which has an average annual footfall of 311,400, will see no change under the plans. But elsewhere in the town, Priorswood Library, which has a yearly average of 14,008 people, could be set to close unless the community gets involved.

Somerset County Gazette:

Cllr Guiseppe Faschini. 

County councillor for Taunton North, which covers Priorswood, Guiseppe Faschini, said: “I encourage everyone to take part and have their say on the Councils Library Consultation.

“The council is committed to running a modern service that is fit for the future which is why it’s so important you help shape the future of this important service and make your views known.”

The library in Wiveliscombe faces a similar situation, except here the ‘community involvement’ would be supported by some council county funding. The library is used around 22,961 times every year.

Somerset County Gazette:

CONCERNS: Wiveliscombe Library, which is open 17.5 hours a week.

Somerset County Gazette: ElectionsModule Candidate photo

Cllr James Hunt.

County Cllr James Hunt, for Upper Tone, who covers Wiveliscombe, said he was disappointed to hear the plans for the “incredibly useful” service.

“I met with the officers during their assessments along with representatives of the local library groups and town council and the situation for the town library seemed positive so I am very disappointed to hear about the future proposals,” He said.

“I know that the town and local users are very rightly protective of this important local resource and the part it plays in the community and I will be supporting them all the way to try and keep a library service operational in the town. Libraries are more than just places with books and do provide a range of other incredibly useful services as well as a community meeting place.”

He added that no decisions have been made yet and encouraged residents to take part in the consultation to make their voices heard.

RELATED: Read more about the consultation

Somerset County Gazette:

CONSULTATION: Bishops Lydeard Library, which is open 11 hours a week.

Bishops Lydeard Library also faces changes, with no county council funding on offer.

The library is only open for 11 hours per week and sees 3,317 average users each year.

Somerset County Gazette: ElectionsModule Candidate photo

Cllr Mike Rigby.

County Cllr Mike Rigby, for Bishops Lydeard, said: “This consultation appears to pick up where the last mass closure effort failed. I am especially disappointed that when the council contacted me to discuss the plans for Bishops Lydeard they tried to dress it up as some fancy new partnership, when after me pressing repeatedly, it was clear that they want to close the existing library and do away with the librarian’s post.

“The conservative-controlled council will have to keep making such cuts proposals until it stands up to its own Government on the issue of council funding. When will this happen?”

In Wellington, two options are available in the consultation. Option A would see similar suggestions such as community involvement (with some county council funding) or more mobile stops. Option B would see the service left as it is.

Somerset County Gazette:

IMPORTANT: Wellington Library, which is open 37 hours a week.

The library sees an average annual footfall of 68,531, the second most-used after Taunton Library.

Somerset County Gazette:

Cllr Andy Govier.

County Cllr Andy Govier said: “I hope that this consultation will come to the conclusion that Wellington needs to retain a library in its current or an enhanced form. The town library is one of the most used in Somerset and is a hub of social and cultural activity. A modern library provides more for a community than books, although this is still an important component, it provides access for many to employment opportunities and services.

“As the local county councillor, I joined with other colleagues from all three of the councils to meet with officers from SCC to discuss the proposals. We made it clear that we supported the library being retained. We also talked about the possibility of other council services being provided from there to make the building more sustainable.

“Wellington is a growing town and we need a thriving town centre. We are already losing our banks and we need to provide people with reasons to come into the town centre.”

One councillor said he was concerned with the ‘poor quality’ of the consultation.

Somerset County Gazette: ElectionsModule Candidate photo

Cllr John Thorne.

County Cllr John Thorne said: “As a member of the scrutiny committee, which only a few months ago voted to keep our public libraries as an in-house service rather than see them outsourced, I am shocked at the tone and poor quality of this consultation exercise.

“Clearly, we are facing the prospect of mass closures of libraries across the county, with the alternative being a mobile library which could perhaps end up visiting a community for half-an-hour once a month, or maybe a session in a community centre.

“Nothing like this was suggested when the issue came to the scrutiny committee and I think if it had been raised, then the idea of externalising the library service, as they have done in Devon and some other counties, would have become a more attractive option for councillors like myself.

“The information in the proposals document is very confusing and I think the council urgently needs to have another look at it before the consultation starts. To make matters even more laughable, I see the proposals are accompanied by 366 pages of ‘equalities impact assessment’, looking at the possible impact of library changes on issues such as sexual orientation and gender reassignment among users. It is political correctness in the extreme.”

Access the consultation after January 29 here.