Essex library charge rejected thanks to woman who takes out 20 books a week

A plan to charge £1.15 to reserve a book from Essex libraries has been put on hold thanks to a chance story of one elderly library user. Essex County Council has been set to agree on the charge for reserving books and other physical items from June 1 to reduce the number of reservations not collected.

The council says that each year the service has over 400,000 reservations and items are moved between its warehouse and other libraries mainly but not always within Essex. However, it says recently 26 per cent of reserved books or over 100,000 items are never collected and sit on shelves until they are redistributed.

They add there is a cost for moving these items and during the three to four weeks of the process items remain unavailable for other library users, which they say is not fair. However, the plan was paused after the cabinet member responsible for libraries Councillor Mark Durham visited Clacton Library and heard of an elderly lady who regularly visits Holland-on-Sea Library every two weeks, reserving and borrowing around 20 books each visit.

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At the Full Council meeting on Tuesday, he said: “She reads each one and returns them diligently. I, therefore, came to the conclusion that rather than unfairly disadvantage this lady and others like her, it may be better to address the issue of those who selfishly make multiple reservations and not collect them all.

“For this reason, we will not proceed with the decision in its current form and revisit how we minimise the negative impacts of reservations which are not collected to avoid this stock being inaccessible to others who may wish to access them.”

However, the council has not ruled out charges altogether - adding that charging for reservations may decrease the number of items that are not collected after being reserved. A £1.15 charge would be more expensive than neighbouring charges - Kent Libraries charge £1, Surrey Libraries 75p, Norfolk Libraries 60p, Hertfordshire Libraries 80p and Cambridgeshire Libraries 50p.

Councillor Durham added: "Maintaining the same levels of non-collection is unsustainable which is why it was essential to address the problem, I am confident that our new plan will alleviate this issue without unduly impacting the genuine users.

"We cannot continue to allow all taxpayers to bear the burden created by a minority, but we will of course have to monitor the situation to ensure that we achieve our objectives.”