A FURTHER round of public consultation is being planned in the autumn on the future of Dorset’s libraries.

Work carried out so far has identified the libraries in areas of most need.

In the top ten of the list is the Weymouth Library and Learning Centre, followed by Bridport, Portland, Littlemoor, Dorchester, Swanage, Wareham, Ferndown, Sherborne and Blandford.

At the other end of the table comes Corfe Mullen, Lytchett Matravers, Verwood, West Moors, Upton, Wyke Regis, Crossways, Wimborne, Lyme Regis and Beaminster.

Other figures generated by the library service include maps showing education need where Lyme Regis, Beaminster, Sturminster Newton and Weymouth and Littlemoor feature and another which shows age profile where Dorchester, Weymouth, Blandford, Shaftesbury and Wimborne have populations made up of a large percentage of residents over 65.

A 145-page report based on the research and consultations held so far will go to a special meeting of the Dorset Council Joint Overview Committee next Wednesday, June 29th.

Report author Liz Crocker, the services manager for libraries, says existing library strategy is more than ten years old and needs to be replaced by a new strategy which will guide the future, delivering services in line with needs of residents and the Dorset Council strategic priorities.

She says that the first phase of the consultation attracted the views of over 7,500 residents, partners, employees, councillors and businesses.

The next phase will take place over 12 weeks in the autumn and is designed to refine the final strategy.

Among the finding so far is the need for libraries to be more than just about books - to offer places for people to meet, to work, collaborate and receive advice, including advice and information on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Talks have also been held about the potential of using some library spaces for the new ‘family hubs’ to be run by health and social services.

The report shows that since 2016 physical use of libraries has declined by up to 30per cent while online use, for e-books and audio books, has risen by over 350per cent and is said to be continuing to increase as the country comes out of the pandemic.

“We have seen new trends in accessing content, events and activities online and although people are returning to preferred “in-person” activities and events, we remain aware that the online library requirement must be embedded in our future thinking,” said the report.

“The research revealed opportunities for library services to have greater impact on communities within Dorset. More importantly, the research and engagement process revealed the willingness and appetite of council and community services to work more closely with the library service to achieve shared priorities and meet community needs both now and in the future.”