Doubts over digital library service in cost-cutting town

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COUNCIL bosses behind plans to close libraries or hand them over to teams of community volunteers have unveiled a scheme which they claim will continue with the “improvement and modernisation” of its service.

Doncaster Council has faced severe criticism from some sections of the community after the town’s elected mayor Peter Davies unveiled a plan which involved 14 of the borough’s libraries.

Under the cost-cutting scheme, many of the libraries have been handed over to groups of volunteers, who will be responsible for the branches and their running costs, while others have closed.

But leading councillors claim a new “digital library” idea, which will allow people to download so-called e-books via the internet, will help attract new users and help those affected by closures and reduced opening hours.

Coun Mark Thompson, Doncaster Council’s corporate services spokesman, said: “This is an exciting development for our library users, allowing access to e-books and audiobooks at a time to suit them and in the comfort of their own home.

“I’m sure many residents will have received e-book readers and similar devices this Christmas, and if they are already library members then they can download their choice of titles straight away.”

The council said using the new service was easy and required a library membership and an internet connection through which books can be downloaded. Titles are loaned for three weeks and then disappear from the borrowers device.

Lauren Smith, a spokesman for Save Doncaster’s Libraries, which led action to oppose the council’s library policy, said the campaign welcomed the introduction of an electronic service.

But she added: “This should not be seen in any way as replacing services which could be lost if branch libraries close.

“Obviously we see the introduction of electronic books as a hugely positive move, because Doncaster is miles behind other councils in this area.

“But it will not help those people who do not have access to the internet and do not have the income to have access to the internet or e-book readers.

“The electronic service should run alongside the traditional services offered by branch libraries which are valued by the elderly and families with young children, who need access to books at their local library.

“The electronic service will not focus on their needs, but we know that Doncaster Council so far has paid very little attention to the what the community wants, and we are concerned that without rethinking its current policy this could further alienate people who have so far had their needs ignored.”

The digital library is available by logging on to www.doncaster.gov.uk/digitallibrary