Case study

Hampshire County Council: strategic library plan

Hampshire County Council's strategic plan for 2016 to 2020

Winchester Discovery Centre, Hampshire
Winchester Discovery Centre, Hampshire. Photo credit: Hampshire Libraries

Context

Hampshire has one of the largest library services in the country. It employs 525 staff (325 full time equivalent posts) and provides a range of services across its network of 53 libraries (including 5 volunteer-led community libraries). In 2015/16, the budget for the service was £12.4 million and a further £1.5 million was generated in income.

Published in April 2016, Hampshire’s Library Service Transformation Strategy to 2020 sets out the ambition to provide comprehensive, high quality, relevant and affordable library services that are suitable for the 21st century. It took 18 months to develop the strategy and the process culminated in a full and comprehensive public consultation exercise, prior to the formal decision.

The strategy proposes at least 14% savings by 2019 alongside investment in library staff, buildings and IT to ensure the library service meets the changing needs of the people that live, work or study in Hampshire. An important outcome was the decision to end the mobile library service and replace it with the home library service and Good Neighbour Scheme for customers unable to visit their nearest static library.

The library needs assessment

To support decisions, and inform the options that were put to people as part of the consultation, the team in Hampshire carried out a detailed needs assessment. An overview was published in the Hampshire Strategy to 2020 which outlines the sort of data that was considered.

Data on static libraries was made up of:

  • usage data from the library management system (LMS) (number of issues, active members), data recorded in branches (visits, leisure events, learner hours), costs from the council finance team and population data from the Office of National Statistics
  • demographic data from the Department for Communities and Local Government (Indices of Deprivation) and the 2011 census
  • usage and travel distance, calculated by using customer data taken from the LMS to establish how many libraries each unique customer had used, and travel time software
  • information on library buildings’ location and condition, provided by service managers and the council’s property services team

This was summarised into tables showing the costs for delivering the different services: static libraries (including community libraries), mobile and home library services. The team also compared their costs against other library authorities of a similar size, using data published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

Collating the information for the library needs assessment and interpreting the findings took around 6 months. The needs assessment compared performance and cost of different aspects of the library service, helping the service to understand the efficiency of its static libraries and other access channels alongside how well they met the needs of local communities. The indices were collated around the 5 headings of:

  • community need
  • access
  • library usage
  • building
  • location
  • value for money

They also took account of proximity to libraries operated by other neighbouring councils (such as Southampton City Council).

A cross-party working group of 6 councillors was established to support the development of the library strategy. The group met 12 times at different Hampshire libraries to review the needs assessment as it evolved and to discuss and understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the library service.

The needs assessment is the backbone of the strategy, helping to evidence the need for change. It persuaded councillors about the need to modernise the service and the changes required to achieve the estimated efficiency savings. Most of the data within the needs assessment will be updated annually, but the demographic and population indices will be updated every 5 years in line with national data refresh dates.

Workforce engagement

In parallel with the development of the library strategy, the senior management team launched a staff development plan called Fit 4 the Future (F4F) which focused on communication, performance and resourcing. The F4F programme supports the cultural shift required to deliver the new library strategy, helping library staff to adapt behaviours, adopt new working arrangements and develop new skills. Underpinning this is a strong focus on a robust performance management process, including sickness absence monitoring, changes to staff breaks, introduction of lone working at smaller branches and a new staff structure.

A new set of job outlines were developed with a focus on front line roles, shifting the emphasis from stock work to customer service. Casual workers were replaced with new annualised hours contracts which has improved cost certainty. Leadership and managerial roles have been expanded based on geographical areas of Hampshire.

Public consultation

A market research company, ORS, developed the consultation questionnaire and analysed the responses. The questionnaire was available online, with hard copies available in all Hampshire libraries and mobile library vehicles. It was publicised through Hampshire media (via press releases to newspapers, radio and television). There was direct contact:

  • with more than 250 local parish and town councils and every district council
  • by email to over 150,000 library customers
  • regular posts to the county council’s 40,000 social media followers and to 37,000 county council staff

The 11 week public consultation resulted in one of the largest responses ever received by the county council, with 9,500 people completing the questionnaire, 96% of whom were library users. Approximately 600 Hampshire residents were randomly selected by ORS (representing the makeup of the Hampshire population) to participate in a telephone survey, 60% of whom were library users. A further 70 individuals and organisations also took the opportunity to send in comments by email or letter direct to the county council. Further details can be found in Appendix 2 of the Decision Report.

It took several weeks to analyse the response and the Decision Report explained how the results of the consultation informed changes to the strategy.

The main proposals in the strategy were to:

  • replace the mobile library service with a home library service delivered by volunteers, saving £360,000
  • invest £500,000 every year for 4 years from the £2 million Book Fund to make libraries modern and vibrant, with new technology and digital systems
  • place libraries into 4 different tiers to provide a standardised approach to services
  • review the future viability of static libraries, using an agreed set of criteria
  • share library buildings with complementary partner organisations enabling several services to be accessed in one visit
  • develop library staff in line with the transformation priorities
  • increase the use of trained volunteers to support the work of paid library staff
  • phase withdrawal of poorly used library collections (for example CDs, games, and DVDs)

Accomplishments / lessons learned

Engagement with council members

Engagement with councillors from all parties right from the start was essential. Whilst time consuming, this liaison ensured strong support across all parties for the final library strategy and the changes proposed within it.

Needs assessment

Making the time to undertake a thorough needs assessment, bringing in specialist expertise from other parts of the county council. For example it took a month to download the information from the LMS on the usage of the mobile library service and collate the information about usage by stop. Details of the mobile library usage published in the draft library strategy was critical to the decision taken to end the service.

External expertise

Commissioning ORS to draw up the consultation questionnaire, undertake the telephone survey and analyse the results was not cheap, but the Hampshire team did not have the in house expertise to do this. In addition it removed criticism, for example, of biased questions.

Equalities impact assessment

Making time at the beginning of the process to undertake a thorough equalities impact assessment and refine it at every stage was vital.

Three fifths of questionnaire respondents and three quarters of telephone survey respondents agreed with the proposal to close the mobile library service. This level of support was unexpected for such a potentially difficult outcome and it helped convince the decision makers that it was the right thing to do.

Respondents provided lots of ideas to mitigate the loss of the mobile service. Some ideas were followed up, such as offering free online library learning sessions in community venues for communities which lost their mobile library service (although these have not been taken up). Some of the ideas were included in the equalities impact assessment.

Future plans

The library needs assessment was first created using 2013/14 data and has been updated for 2014/15 and 2015/16. The annual refresh helps compare and track year on year changes in library usage and operating costs. The Hampshire team are refining the data set and are currently reviewing the definition of active library customers to assess how this impacts library usage. Unfortunately it is difficult to download the data from the LMS and this is something they are working on with their supplier.

Hampshire purchase an e-book service and other online library resources but receive very limited data on usage by customer type or by genres. In future they hope that better information will be available to inform purchasing decisions for printed stock versus e-books so that they can support more customers to use the online library service.

Further information

Hampshire Libraries vision and strategy

Published 30 November 2016