Proposals relating to spend on library stock

What is the current situation?

Hampshire County Council has a legal responsibility under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ Library Service for everyone who lives, works or studies in Hampshire that:

  • allows people to borrow, or reference, a wide range of books and materials of suitable quality
  • ensures the range and quantity of books and materials held is sufficient to meet the needs of both adults and children, including any special requirements
  • is free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area
  • encourages adults and children to make full use of it (including advice and help on how to use and access its services and resources)
  • takes account of local community needs and resources available to us

The Library Service is focused on promoting reading, supporting healthy, creative communities and providing access to digital services.

We currently have one of the largest library services in the country, consisting of 40 physical libraries, a Digital Library Service including eBooks, eAudiobooks and other digital resources, a Home Library Service, a School Library Service and a Learning in Libraries offer.

We hold many different types of library material including books, audiobooks, newspapers, magazines, maps, printed music, photographs, digital formats (eBooks, eAudiobooks) and electronic information resources. Find out more about how stock is selected and managed.

In 2022/23, over three million visits were made to Hampshire libraries, with nearly four million physical books being issued. A further one million issues of digital eBooks and eAudiobooks were made.

The cost of running the Library Service for 2023/24 is £12.6 million, with £9.9 million coming from core funding and £2.7 million income from additional library services. £1.2 million is allocated to buying new stock, with £900,000 spent on new physical stock and £300,000 on digital resources such as eBooks and eAudiobooks.

What is being proposed?

We are proposing to achieve savings of £200,000 per year by reducing how much we spend on new library stock, such as books and digital resources, each year.

Our recommended approach is to achieve this saving through a combination of reducing spend on physical and digital stock collectively as this would minimise the impact on any one customer group, but there are other options for how we could approach this which are detailed below.

Why is this being proposed?

Until a sustainable long-term national funding solution can be found to address the intense financial pressures facing not only the County Council, but also wider local government, we have no choice but to consider changing or reducing services in some areas and propose options for savings.

Reducing spend on library stock would contribute towards addressing the County Council’s overall anticipated £132 million budget deficit from April 2025.

We believe this proposal enables efficiencies to be achieved to contribute to the County Council’s overall budget deficit, whilst maintaining adequate book stocks and a comprehensive and efficient service. In accordance with our Stock Policy, our ambition is for the Library Service to remain inclusive, dynamic and responsive in our approach to stock purchase and coverage, making available a wide choice of published materials within the available budget.

How would the proposal be implemented?

If approved, there are several ways that we could reduce annual spend on new library stock by £200,000, including:

  • Reducing spend on physical stock only – This would include buying fewer items but could also include purchasing more paperbacks rather than hardbacks and reviewing how we manage demand for popular titles. This would result in a 22% reduction in spend on physical stock.
  • Reducing spend on digital stock only – This would involve purchasing fewer digital items which may mean service users have less choice and might wait longer for popular titles. This would result in a 67% reduction in spend on digital stock.
  • A combination of both the above – This would minimise the impact on specific customers, as changes would be spread across a wider customer base. This would result in a 17% reduction in the £1.2 million spent each year on physical and digital stock combined. For example, the amount spent on physical stock could reduce from £900,000 to £750,000. The amount spent on digital resources could reduce from £300,000 to £250,000.

We would continue to follow our current policy of making sure that the books and digital resources we do buy reflect a wide range of interests and current trends. We would seek to take a targeted approach to any reductions, for example, prioritising paperback rather than hardback books and prioritising buying the most popular items.

If approved, we would reduce the amount we spend on stock by no later than March 2025.

What are the potential impacts?

We anticipate that the potential impacts of the proposed approach could be:

  • a reduction in the overall amount of physical and digital stock available to people in their local library
  • a small proportion of titles may have longer waiting times

As the Library Service has over one million books available, and as the savings proposed would still allow 83% of the current spend on new stock, we feel that the overall impact on stock availability and waiting times would be low.

We would also continue to manage book stock efficiently across our network of libraries and the digital library to maximise availability and rotation of stock.

What alternatives have been considered?

There are other approaches that we could take that are not proposed at this time. In developing this proposal, we have also considered the following:

Maintain current levels of spending on stock

This option is not being proposed because of the scale of the budget pressures faced by the County Council, and the legal requirement to operate within budget. If we maintained current levels of spending, it would put additional pressure on other statutory or critical services to deliver increased savings. Statutory services are those we are legally required to provide. This may impact levels of service in these areas and our ability to operate within our budget.

Closing libraries and/or reducing opening hours

We are not proposing to do this because we have already reduced the Library Service following the 2020 Public Consultation.

Removing the Digital Library offer

We are not proposing this because:

  • the Digital Library supports Hampshire’s provision of a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’.
  • the Digital Library was a key compensating feature when some libraries were closed, and opening hours reduced in 2020.
  • Digital library usage has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. It was essential during lockdown to help us serve people when they most needed it and many customers have retained a preference for this format.
  • the removal of this service would have a disproportionate impact on disabled, housebound, and disadvantaged users of the service, whilst also being at odds with societal shift towards digital provision.

Charging for the Digital Library offer

We are not proposing this as:

  • the Digital Library is key to how we offer a comprehensive and efficient service
  • it is an important way in which people can borrow resources if they are unable to access physical library services
  • as a society we are moving generally towards digital services, in part due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – digital library use has more than doubled since the pandemic, when it enabled people to access resources safely during lockdowns
  • removal of this service would have a disproportionate impact on disabled, housebound, and disadvantaged customers

Reducing frontline staffing costs

We are not proposing this because we have already reduced staff numbers in libraries to the minimum level required to operate the service in its current form.

Income generation

We are not proposing this because the Library Service already generates an annual income of nearly £3 million. We do not believe it is possible to increase this amount without significant further investment, making it less viable than the option proposed.