A bright future for all Oxfordshire libraries
By Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale
Yesterday was the official reopening of the Oxfordshire County Library, which has had a major makeover as part of the new Westgate development in Oxford. If you haven’t been in yet, please visit soon and join the 2000-strong list of new members since the library reopened before Christmas.
This is not a new building, of course. It was built in 1973, opened by the Queen Mother, and has served us very well ever since. But taking a once in a lifetime opportunity afforded to us by the redevelopment of the Westgate, we have transformed the space for the 21st century.
Oxfordshire County Library is much more than a library. It’s a space where we can welcome communities to get involved and work with us to produce amazing events and learning activities.
It’s a space we can use to enhance people’s lives by hosting job clubs, choirs, reading clubs, computer code clubs, live performances and events, foreign language groups and exhibitions.
For instance, the new Makerspace is also a place that makes cutting edge technology accessible to everyone. If you have heard about 3D printing but not sure what it is, why not come in and give it a try?
Our new online self-service area will help people access public services online, such as applying for a bus pass, a blue badge for disabled parking, or a school place. As we like to say, it is ‘easier online’.
But we know that some people need some help to use computers. That is why we are recruiting a team of ‘digital helpers’ who can help people with basic literacy skills so they can use the computers that are in our libraries.
So, there have been some changes. But I would like to reassure regular users of England’s third most used library that this is still, first and foremost, a library. Anyone who doubts that should talk to library staff who packed and unpacked 100,000 books as part of the library refurbishment!
You may notice that we have a new name – the Oxfordshire County Library, not central library. This is truly a library for the whole county – and all library users will benefit, whether you actually visit the building or not.
This is the hub that coordinates the services in a network of 43 libraries across the county. I am proud of the fact that Oxfordshire has kept all its libraries open.
But to do that the County Council had to work in partnership with communities to make sure our libraries have a vibrant future. The future of our library network has been secured by the hard work and commitment of Friends Groups. I need to thank them all. Oxfordshire County Council couldn’t have kept all our libraries open and thriving without their help.
We want our libraries to be seen and used as dynamic focal points for the people they serve, bringing people together and helping to cement a true sense of place. We’ve got job clubs, code clubs, exhibitions, rhyme time sessions for children, live music and more.
I would also like to thank all our volunteers. We have around 1000 volunteers who provide digital support; run children’s activities and events, and in some of our community libraries help to keep the doors open.
Although we no longer offer a mobile library service, we have expanded our home library service for residents who are unable to access one of our branches. We have 150 volunteers helping us to deliver books to around 800 people, bringing the library services to their home.
So today marks the beginning of a new chapter for the library service in Oxfordshire, which I believe has a very bright future.
Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale is Cabinet Member for Property and Cultural Services at Oxfordshire County Council.