A decision on whether to start a personalised door-to-door book delivery service, replacing Brighton & Hove’s mobile library, will be taken at the budget council on Thursday (February 28).
It has emerged that bestselling local crime writer Peter James is backing the home deliveries plan, describing it as a ‘good compromise’.
Reduced funding to councils has meant the city council no longer has sufficient money to run the mobile library service. However the authority says new doorstep deliveries could bring the library service to many people currently unable to visit. They could access the resources available in any city library, including the mobile library.
Brighton & Hove is not planning to cut any of its static libraries and 71 per cent of the 800 current mobile library users also visit another library.
Yet there are over 500 housebound ticket holders registered with the library service under the current limited home delivery service and only 83 have been able to borrow items in the last year. Of these 500-plus people, only one is registered with the mobile library.
In addition, says the council, there are at least 23,000 carers in the city who have very little opportunity to go out. Many would only be able to access library materials through an individual home delivery service.
On February 14 locally-based crime novelist Peter James wrote to councillor in charge of libraries Geoffrey Bowden imploring him to save the mobile library. Cllr Bowden replied the same day, explaining the mobile service was not reaching people who needed the most help. He said the proposal was to replace it with a door-to-door delivery service which would target far more people. Mr James replied: “Certainly your points and argument here make sense, and it is at least encouraging to know about the home delivery service.”
On February 23 in an open Twitter message to Cllr Bowden, Mr James added: “Hope my response did get reported. Your plans sound a good compromise in this sad situation.”
Libraries staff have been talking to the current clients on the home delivery service. One family member said: “I welcome the idea of a delivery especially since my mother is no longer able to get out and, as an avid reader, I know how important reading is to her and supporting her mental health. I used to be able to get her books for her but I no longer live near enough.”
If the proposal goes ahead, funds would be spent on a home delivery library officer who would visit users unable to get to libraries, find out their reading requirements, deliver books to their doorstep and return them. Volunteers would be recruited to help out.
Customers would also be helped to use the council’s online library services for things like browsing the books catalogue or using reference materials. This could either be done on the resident’s own computer or on a wireless laptop carried by the worker.
It would also enable the council to expand its ‘digital inclusion’ programme - offering home tuition in internet, email and social media skills. This is currently only available in libraries.
Other benefits include the service being able to make available all 500,000 items from the council’s entire stock, compared to just 5000 from the mobile library.
Councillor Bowden said: “The tailored home delivery service has been welcomed by those involved with the current limited housebound service. People who receive this service are currently excluded even from visiting the mobile library.
“This imaginative scheme is a way of making available funds work much harder for us, giving more people bigger choice. Most of these would love to use the library but currently have no way of doing so.”
Officials say the home delivery service alternative would cost about £25,000 per year. This would also release £120,000 of capital funding set aside for a new vehicle.