DORSET’S libraries will continue to change and develop – but will still mainly be based around books.

Councillors reviewing the future strategy for the service say that while libraries should change to meet emerging needs and offer new services books should still be at its core.

A new proposed overall strategy recognises that there has been a year on year decline in library use with some age groups seldom, if ever, stepping inside one.

It says many users want change and new services although many remain only interested in borrowing books.

Cllr Sherry Jespersen said that it was easy to get ‘hung up’ about a dip in library users once youngsters reached their teens, but said it was nothing to worry about and was likely to have always been the case.

She said the pattern over the last 20 or 30 years had seen the heavy use of libraries for younger children and their parents, followed by a drop in interest and then more library use by older people.

The evolving libraries strategy, which will be refined before going to public consultation in the autumn, suggests trying to offer something for all age groups, including teenagers, although some libraries already having computer coding in place.

At the younger end some libraries now offer Lego clubs and themed events in addition to the regular story times and rhyme times.

For older people there are talks and , at some centres, classes, while dementia groups operate from a number of libraries.

Portfolio holder for the service, Cllr Laura Beddow, told a joint Dorset Council overview committee on Wednesday: “There will always be a baseline library service. It’s up to libraries to react to and reflect the communities around them.”

A report before the joint committee on the future of the service concluded: “Library services offer a highly valued sense of connection; whether that’s connection to communities, connection to friends, connection to opportunities or connection to services and trusted information. As a largely rural county, with 30% of our population aged 65 or over, having local access to a friendly community space to connect is really important.

“We believe that the library service is more than just a place to borrow books, it is a service which brings people together to interact and connect with other members of their community, fosters culture and creativity and helps people to learn and develop lifelong skills.”

Dorchester councillor Stella Jones warned against libraries trying to do too many things in the future, with suggestions that some could also provide a ‘front door’ for a range of council services and some also operating family hubs. Cllr Jones said the mix would not always be compatible and needed to be carefully considered at each location.

She suggested that the service should not tie its staff and activities to a library building and could go out into the community to offer events such as storytime, which might then attract younger people into the libraries. Cllr Jones said in some areas the library might also consider offering services from venues which were now community-owned, including village shops and pubs.

Purbeck councillor Beryl Ezzard told the meeting that many people remained under the incorrect impression that libraries were still quiet places, not the lively venue most had evolved into offering a range of services, often alongside partner organisations. She said the image would need to be one of the targets to overcome in the new strategy.

The committee endorsed the draft document which will be used as the basis for a 12-week consultation in the autumn ‘Let’s Talk Libraries’.