Conservative funding unlocks access for libraries

Work is about to begin to introduce Open Access (self-service) technology in Cambridgeshire libraries following an investment of over one million pounds. 

Open Access will extend the times libraries are open and will enable local community groups, County Council staff, public sector and partner agency staff to increasingly use libraries as touchdown and meeting places, in line with the council’s plans to locate its services closer to communities by making better use of its own buildings.

Over £1.1 million in capital funding was agreed in the council’s 2018 Business Plan to introduce open access and touchdown facilities into the nine largest libraries and a further 22 libraries across the county.

A version of this self-service technology has been running successfully as a pilot in St Ives Library since 2016, with almost 2,000 members registered and a total of 18,622 visits recorded during Open Access sessions. The technology allows registered members to use their library card as a swipe card to access the library outside of opening hours, and use the self-service systems to issue and return items, use public computers or meeting rooms.  

Initial site visits are currently taking place in 31 libraries and the procurement process to appoint the contractor is under way. The programme is due to be rolled out in the next two years, with an ambition to install the technology in as many libraries as possible by the end of 2021.

Councillor Steve Criswell, Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Communities and Partnership Committee said: “While other councils are cutting library services or reducing opening hours, we are investing in our assets and this project is part of the work we are doing to reinvigorate libraries across the county and enable them to do more for residents, partners and staff.

“The technology is increasingly set up in a wide variety of settings across the country and we know it’s a fantastic way to extend libraries’ opening times.   

“It is an exciting stage for our libraries that goes beyond the introduction of a new technology. This development fully embraces our transformative approach to serve our citizens from the heart of the community they are part of, and to upskill our staff and work with partners so that anyone can come in a library and get all the help they need.”

  • Open Access technology is in use in many libraries across the country and internationally, and there have been very few issues or damages. It’s been well proven that people respect libraries and that the busier and better used the libraries are by communities, staff and partners, the less likely it is that there would be any problems.
  • Safety concerns are also alleviated by comprehensive risk assessments which will be carried out in each library. A full CCTV system be in operation while libraries are in Open Access sessions, which will be monitored remotely. 
  • Currently only people aged 16 and over can register to access St Ives library in an Open Access session and this policy is likely to be extended across the network. Under 16s are welcome to come in to the library during unstaffed hours if they're accompanied by a parent or guardian who is registered.
  • Open Access will increase the opening hours available to the public on a self-service basis. This initiative is not linked to any reduction in library staffing or staffed opening hours, which will remain at current levels.