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Walsall library staff face axe as council cuts loom

Walsall | News | Published:

Libraries that survive council cuts in Walsall could still see the number of staff working in them reduced, it has emerged.

New technology including self-service machines and a new smart card entry system is planned, meaning less staff will be needed.

Walsall Council is looking to axe seven libraries and the mobile library service, along with 13 jobs, as part of plans to save £328,854 next year and £159,058 the year after. And it has now emerged that around £300,000 could be invested into some of the remaining nine libraries to bring in a new management system, allowing visitors to use them when they are unstaffed.

Customers would be given a special card and pin to access the libraries when they are unmanned, with CCTV keeping watch and a book detection system used to keep track of items leaving the building.

Opening times could increase, to allow access between 8am to 8pm. Libraries in Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston, Pelsall, Pheasey, Streetly, Willenhall and the Walsall Central Library stand to remain open.

Although around £300,000 would initially be invested in the scheme, depending on the libraries selected, it is expected to save the authority £349,813 in 2017/18.

A report on the budget proposals reads: "Open+ is a system which enables access to library buildings and basic facilities without the need to have library staff on site.

"It works with the existing library management system and will automatically control self-service kiosks, public access computers, security and lighting.

"It has the potential to extend library opening hours and save on budgets by only having staff available at times identified as the busiest."

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Security cameras would record who accesses the building and a book detection system would also record any item leaving the building without being issued through a self service kiosk.

Under council cost-cutting measures to save £25 million in 2016/17, libraries in Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pleck, Rushall and South Walsall will close, with Walsall Wood book exchange moved to the Oak Park Active Living Centre.

Willenhall North Councillor Ian Shires said: "I think closing libraries is very short-sighted.

"We need to know more about how this Open+ system works. I think there are some issues we need answers to. I know the council faces difficulties in respect of balancing its budget but libraries are such an important part of people's lives."

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