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Get advice at the touch of the button - in your library
6:00am Thursday 12th December 2013 in News
WELCOME to the new face of your local council – Colchester Library and Community Hub.
A new era of co-operation between Colchester and Essex county councils has begun with the unveiling of the new look town centre library.
The library was closed for six weeks for a refurbishment which was partly carried out to pave the way for Colchester Council’s customer service centre to move in.
Beverley Oxford, Colchester councillor responsible for customers, said the environment of the library was much more welcoming and relaxed than that found at the old base, Angel Court, in the High Street.
She said: “It’s absolutely lovely.
It’s a more user-friendly environment and it’s more spacious and open.”
Visitors used to the library’s “express zone” are now greeted with eight more computers, which can be used to access council services such as benefit applications or planning information.
The first floor has six booths where people can meet staff, while there are private rooms on the second floor for more sensitive issues.
In recent weeks, Essex County Council library staff have been “shadowing” Colchester Council customer service staff.
Although they will not be able to deal with more complex issues, they can help residents, including those who do not have library cards, to use the computers.
As part of a fundamental service review of Colchester’s customer services, the computer software has also been made easier to use.
Mrs Oxford said: “I had a look at the PCs yesterday and they’re so much clearer.
“One press of a button and you’re straight to the service you need.
“If you want benefits and housing advice, you just touch that button and you’re there.”
The authorities are clear one reason for the move is to save money.
Once Colchester Council’s lease for Angel Court expires in 2015, the authority will make a saving as it is cheaper to hire space from the county council in the library.
The investment in IT is also intended to encourage residents to access council services online, rather than over the phone or face-to-face where possible.
But Mrs Oxford stressed there would always be the option of an appointment with a member of the council’s staff.
She said: “I think one of the concerns may have been the fact customers felt we were just going to go computer only.
“We know a lot of our customers do want to self serve, but we’re also have people who are scared of computers and want to talk to a person.
“It’s important for people who are vulnerable or who don’t know the first thing about computers.
“By doing it this way we can give the best of both worlds.
“We also still have somewhere quiet and confidential where they can go to discuss the issues they have.”
Both authorities are keen to stress this is a joint initiative, which should benefit the councils and residents.
One change will see no cash payments accepted, although staff can help residents find ways around this.
Colchester Council staff will be available from Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm, as they were at Angel Court.
However, library workers and the computers will be available until 6.30pm during the week and from 9am until 5.30pm on Saturday and between 1pm and 4pm on Sunday.
Leonie Rathbone, head of customer services, said: “This means extra weekend and evening hours that we have at the library.
“For people who work, it will be much easier for them.”
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