Higgins_henry Cllr Henry Higgins, the Cabinet Member for Culture Sport & Leisure on Hillingdon Council, writes on how the the library revolution in his borough continues after winning National Award for Library Innovation

A lot has been written and spoken about the Library service offered by the London Borough of Hillingdon. We’re very proud of the achievement of cutting costs by 20% whilst tripling the use of the service.

It started in 2007 with people throwing their hands in the air in horror at the thought of bringing in shop fitters instead of the usual contractors to brighten up and open out the floor of the Library. They tutted when we announced we would introduce Starbucks coffee (sold at 30% cheaper than the high street price) and they scoffed when we said that we would create a partnership with Apple to bring in Mac computers and new comfortable seating so students would come into the Library after school and college.

We were convinced that if we were to deliver the council’s vision of “Putting Residents First” the Libraries had to be central to our thinking, but we knew the same old tired revamping formula wouldn’t work. In a changing digital age our Libraries need to adapt, to modernise and develop to attract a new generation of
customer but still remain true to their communities and to serve the residents that continued to use them.

As Libraries for Life for Londoners spelt out, we had to let the Librarians run the libraries. They should be given the power to choose which books are bought for their libraries; after all they are the people who face the residents day in and day out. However we went one step further than that – we gave the profits from
the coffee sold in the Library to the Librarians to spend on whatever they felt was most suited to their Library.

I was therefore delighted to attend the Bookseller Industry Awards 2011 in May to receive the award for Library Innovation on behalf of the Council. One of the judges described the Library rebuild and refurbishment programme as helping to make Libraries “a better place to visit”, whilst Bookseller Editor- in-Chief and Chairman of the judging panel Neil Denny commented “Despite operating in a fast changing market, the winners of these awards have shown themselves to be innovative and successful during a challenging time for the industry.

We have been pleased to receive numerous visits from MPs, Councillors and residents groups from all across the country wanting to take a look at a different way of doing things.

However we know there is more to do. We believe that there is no reason books and technology cannot sit side by side, We’re looking to the future and there is a whole different niche to explore in the growing popularity of e book and e-readers. Why shouldn’t you be able to borrow an e-reader from the library and then download e-books to read for free from a library website? – That is the future – a combination of tradition and modernisation, retaining the history of the written word and embracing the technology of the present and the future.

Hillingdon’s Libraries announced record visitor numbers- more than 80,000 in some libraries- as well as record book loans at the end of last year, bucking the trend that has seen library user numbers drop by 32 % in five years, and the Council remains committed to rebuilding or refurbishing all of our libraries by the end of 2014.