Warren Morgan: We cannot afford to keep Hove Library in current form

The Carnegie building would be preserved, not lost
The Carnegie building would be preserved, not lost

I wrote last week about the very difficult choices that the council is being forced to take.

I wrote last week about the very difficult choices that the council is being forced to take because of the removal of government funding for local council services, around a third of our budget.

Hove Museum would be extended to accommodate the library

Hove Museum would be extended to accommodate the library

One of the most high-profile of these choices so far is the proposal to move Hove library to Hove museum from its current home in the Carnegie building on Church Road.

The building is listed, but is very costly to run - in terms of repairs, maintenance, and staffing. We simply can’t afford to keep the library going in its current form.

Most users live on the other side of Sackville Road, so it makes sense to move the service closer to them and make full use of the museum, its grounds, and café on new Church Road. It will need to be extended, but in the long term the costs will be much lower.

Combined, the joining of Hove library and museum in one location will ensure that both services are retained for the future. The Carnegie building is listed and will be preserved not lost, but it will need a new use.

Despite today’s online, e-reader, books-on-demand world, libraries are much-valued places in the hearts of our communities.

In an ideal world, we would be building more. But the reality is that we can’t afford to run all of the ones we have. Two years ago, our mobile library service was shut down; the opening hours of our other branch libraries in communities and neighbourhoods have been much reduced.

Our plan is to expand our “Libraries Extra” scheme so that, using new technology, library-users can have full, seven-day a week access to their local branch, with help on-call and full security for peace of mind. Total library opening hours would almost double, with a mix of staffed and unstaffed days.

Unlike many cities we have a number of modern libraries built in the last dozen years - in Coldean, Woodingdean and Whitehawk, and of course the award-winning Jubilee Library opened a decade ago this year.

Our libraries will, even more than they are now, become neighbourhood hubs where a whole range of services, information and help are provided, with the space available for community use.

The proposals for changes to library services will go out for public consultation in November, following the economic development and culture committee, with final decisions taking place in March of next year. It’s hoped that the new combined library and museum would open in 2017.

The world has changed since Carnegie’s time, since the days of philanthropic beneficence and municipal pride.

Today we should be focusing on services, not buildings, on making a difference to people’s lives through culture and learning, not preserving symbols of civic importance.

We need a library service, not a collection of ageing buildings we can’t maintain, to ensure that libraries are as valued by future generations as they have are by ours.

Councillor Warren Morgan, leader of the Labour Group, is leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.