OPENING hours will be temporarily reduced across three libraries in Torfaen while a service review is carried out.
There are currently four vacant library assistant roles within the borough’s service, which is leading to staff shortages as more people return to using libraries following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
But a council report says filling the vacancies while a review of the service is being carried out would ‘prejudice’ its outcome.
At a meeting on Tuesday, Torfaen council’s cabinet supported a proposal for a temporary reduction in opening hours at Cwmbran, Pontypool and Blaenavon libraries.
The reduction is intended to avoid unplanned closures, as a report warned the libraries would be at “severe risk of disruption” if current opening hours are maintained.
Cllr Anthony Hunt, council leader, said he supported the “pragmatic approach”.
“I think it’s the right thing to do to address this at this time, while maintaining provision across the three library centres,” he said.
The reduction in hours will result in Cwmbran and Pontypool libraries closing at 1pm, instead of 4pm, and Blaenavon library shutting at 2pm instead of 5pm on Saturdays.
Pontypool library will open from 2pm until 7pm on Tuesdays, instead of from the current opening time of 9.30am.
It will also open from 9am until 1pm on Thursday, instead of the current times of 9.30am until 7pm.
A full day opening of 9am to 5pm is planned on Wednesday to coincide with outdoor market day, when footfall is highest in the town.
The temporary reduction aims to ensure at least one library is open every day, that libraries are open for one school run for residents with children to use, and that the libraries at home service is available for older residents who would normally have accessed the service when it is planned to be closed.
Torfaen council will launch a “communications campaign” to notify the public, and a staff and trades union consultation will be carried out in relation to any impact on rotas and working patterns before the changes are implemented.
At the same time, the council will also accelerate the implementation of a five-year libraries strategy adopted in 2018, aiming to maximise the role of libraries as a focal point for communities.
Changes to the way people are using libraries resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic will also be considered in the future plans.
The number of books being issued is starting to recover but is still “significantly below” pre-pandemic levels, a council report says.