Area 52(2) pp 342-353

This paper demonstrates the applicability of GIS tools for investigating the implications of changes in public service provision following a prolonged period of economic austerity in the UK. Using the example of geographical accessibility to public library service points in Wales, levels of provision are estimated for two cross‐sections in time to gain an understanding of the potential implications of changes in service delivery models. Accessibility scores for small areas, generated using sophisticated floating catchment area (FCA) methods, enable complex spatial interactions between library service capacity and potential demand to be evaluated within realistic geographical service areas. Extending these models, we demonstrate how indicators of library service “quality” can be incorporated into access measures using the example of library operating hours for sites in three bordering Welsh local authorities, each of which have experienced differing policy responses to library service reconfiguration. Overall, the level of geographical accessibility to public library provision in Wales was found to have declined, on average, between 2011 and 2018, coinciding with a notable reduction in public library funding over the same period. While this finding is not unexpected, given an overall decrease in public library service points, this study reveals spatial inequalities in provision with areas of declining provision coinciding with pockets of greater economic deprivation. From a policy perspective, this paper demonstrates how network‐based GIS tools can aid scenario/sensitivity modelling to inform public service decision‐making processes. Our future research will extend these techniques to examine the implications of service reconfiguration strategies on potentially disadvantaged groups such as the elderly and the unemployed who rely on public libraries for access to e‐government and broader IT services.