Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Library users in Sevenoaks and surrounding villages face cuts to opening hours. But you have a chance to have your say

Author and former Sevenoaks library manager Janet Davies says there are still plenty of positives when it comes to using our local libraries but highlights the changes that could be coming our way

Once upon a time, everyone paid a weekly visit to their local library to borrow books, to read a newspaper or to find the answer to a question. But the internet has changed the way we live, and libraries have had to reinvent themselves as community hubs to keep the visitors coming through the doors.

Yes, you can still borrow books, but you can also meet for coffee and chat, join a Rhyme Time session, learn English or use a computer. Unique to Kent, libraries are where you now register a birth or death. In addition, there are five ceremony offices in Kent for weddings, civil partnerships and citizenship ceremonies.

It’s this willingness to innovate, adapt and generate income that has persuaded local politicians that Kent’s network of libraries is worth protecting. Mike Hill, KCC’s portfolio holder for Libraries, Registration and Archives (LRA), has pledged to keep all of Kent’s 99 libraries open and to run them with paid staff.

The times they are-a-changing – or they could be at the libraries in the Sevenoaks area.

So why is Kent County Council proposing cuts to library opening hours?

  • Children’s information book issues have fallen significantly across Kent, as children (and their parents) use Google rather than books to do their homework.
  • Most reference books (including encyclopedias) are now only available online
  • Many branches – particularly the smaller ones – are empty on Saturday afternoons and are already closed for half the week.
  • Few people use Sevenoaks Library on its late night (Thursday) and, generally, visits to Kent’s library buildings are falling.

The reality is that no matter how many people think of libraries as ‘a good thing’, they are an obvious target when it comes to austerity measures. In recent years, libraries have been pared back to the point where further cuts will affect services to the public. This is the point that Kent’s library service has now reached. With this in mind, a draft document has been published which sets out how LRA hopes to move forward over the next three years. There are a lot of positives in this report, but the contentious issue is the proposal to cut library opening hours.

But be honest: do we really need such long opening hours when so much is done electronically? If you had to choose, which would you want?: better funding for your mother or father’s social care or longer library opening hours? It’s come to the point where the politicians might have to make that decision.

Do you believe that you will be able to access the services you need if library opening hours are cut? This is your chance to influence this strategy, by reading and commenting on the proposals. There are copies to take away at all libraries, and you can either fill in the accompanying questionnaire on paper or online. The draft strategy and online questionnaire are also available at www.kent.gov.uk/libs

Janet Davies

* As a Sevenoaks librarian, Janet Davies helped local pupils with their homework for more than 30 years. Having now retired, she has produced a full colour, well-illustrated paperback book called ‘A History of Sevenoaks’. It is aimed at children aged between eight and 12 years old, but parents, grandparents and anyone with an interest in the town will find out something new between its covers. It is available from Sevenoaks Bookshop and at Sevenoaks, Riverhead, Seal, Kemsing and Otford libraries.

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