Public views sought on library and contact centre opening hours

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LATE opening of libraries on selected evenings and, for the first time, access to council services on a Saturday are two innovations which Scottish Borders Council hopes will receive the blessing of townsfolk in Jedburgh, Selkirk, Kelso and Innerleithen, writes Andrew Keddie.

These are the four towns, along with Berwickshire’s Duns and Coldstream, in which the libraries and contact centres are being integrated in a bid to save the cash-strapped council £130,000 a year in employee and property costs.

The decision to merge the facilities was taken in December, councillors having been convinced that library staff could be trained to carry out contact centre duties and vice-versa, in towns where usage of both facilities was low.

The proposal, which attracted fierce local opposition, particularly in Selkirk and Innerleithen, when it was put out to public consultation last autumn, was also informed by the fact that cash transactions for council tax and other SBC services could no longer be accepted across the network of contact centres.

Now, in a new bid to engage with a sceptical publc, the council has launched a further consultation on a series of detailed proposals which seek to make the best use of the reduced opening hours.

The keenness of the council to implement the proposals as soon as possible is evidenced by the fact that the closing date for feedback, either in writing or via the SBC website, is March 18.

Under the new arrangements, the integrated service will operate in Jedburgh for a total of 25 hours a week, compared with the current 33 library hours and the 38 hours 15 minutes when the public may access the contact centre Monday to Friday.

The joint facilities will run from 10am-1pm and 2-5pm Monday and Thursday; 2-7pm Tuesday; 10am-3pm Friday and 9.30am-12.30pm Saturday. It will close on Wednesday.

Selkirk will experience the same total cut in opening hours, but the new service will be available six days a week instead of the current five: 10am-1pm and 2-5pm on Monday; 2-7pm on Tuesday; 10am-1pm Wednesday; 2-5pm Thursday; from 10am-3pm Friday and 9.30am-12.30pm on Saturday.

The changes are less radical in Kelso and Innerleithen.

In the former, the library will retain its 33 hours, which is three hours and 15 minutes less than current contact centre services are delivered. The joint service will start at 10am daily – an hour later than at present – but it will be available until 7pm on Tuesday and from 9.30am till 12.30pm on Saturday.

Finally, in Innerleithen, the integrated service will open for 16 hours, increasing access to contact centre facilities by one hour and 15 minutes. The joint service will close on Tuesday, but be open from 9.30am till 12.30pm on Saturday.

Councillor Graham Garvice, the Lib Dem executive member for culture, sport and community learning, said this week that, apart from the user-friendliness of Saturday opening for contact centres, with extended late afternoon openings, more children would now have access to the libraries after school. Lunchtime openings would also coincide with lunchbreaks for customers.

“What is being suggested reflects our commitment to improve the customer experience and providing an efficient service fit for the future,” said Mr Garvie.

“We know that both customer expectations and the role of libraries are changing. Recognising that times are tough and that there are improved technologies and ways of working, we need to do what we can to provide a secure future for both services.

“Now we have approved the integration, I urge local people to have their say on when they should be open.”