COUNCIL chiefs have agreed a raft of money-saving changes to the way North Yorkshire's libraries are run, with volunteers set to take over a majority of services.

Months of consultation and emotional debate accompanied North Yorkshire County Council’s proposals to change to the way its libraries are run, as it grappled with the need to make £1.6 million worth of savings from its budget.

The original proposals involved all libraries losing some staffing and 21 becoming community-run initiatives, run entirely by volunteers.

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A number of local communities in the county launched campaigns to keep professional staffing at their local library, prompting six petitions involving 8,780 signatures and a total of 17,000 responses to the consultation.

In response, the authority agreed to provide some of the libraries earmarked for an entirely voluntary staffing with a number of hours of professional support a week.

At a meeting at County Hall today, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive committee agreed to go ahead with the proposals.

Opening the meeting, the executive member for library and information services, Councillor Chris Metcalfe told councillors the decision before them was “one of those monumental decisions that from time to time we’re forced to deal with”.

Dr John Gibbons, from Wolfson College, Cambridge, who teaches professional conduct, warned the move was part of a national trend of "de-professionalising" workforces – getting rid of trained, experienced staff in favour of volunteers, a move he said was also creeping across health services, policing, care and other areas.

He said he was working on a European-wide project that would aim to make Britain a worldwide centre of innovation and knowledge and libraries were the main places for the storage of data and information.

Councillor Roger Harrison-Topham said the council should take a serious look at the risks involved in assuming volunteers would be willing or able to run their libraries, saying: “I would urge you to take a look at the risks involved in this as to whether or not you’re willing to tolerate some libraries closing. Because once a community loses something like that, they have lost it for good.”

Julie Blaisdale, assistant director for library and community services, said council officials didn’t see the outline laid before them as the “easy option”.

She said: "We’re trying not to sound overly optimistic. We do recognise there are a number of potential areas of risk.”

She added there were some communities which were ready to go ahead with their community-run libraries and others where it was going to be a “long haul” to get them to a point where they were ready to open their doors in 2017.

Cllr Gareth Dadd said looking into how to make savings from the libraries funding had been a “long and arduous” process and said it was a “small part” of the financial challenges the local authority faced, which currently has a funding black hole of £14.2m until 2019/20.

He added: “I think we could all subscribe to wanting to save Stokesley Library and every other library in the county. This is probably the best chance we have to do just that.”

Cllr Chris Metcalfe said the debates and consultations had demonstrated that the protection of the library service was in the “hearts and minds” of North Yorkshire.

He said: “This is the second time round we’ve had to look at this. It continues to remain a very challenging and emotive issue. We’re fully aware of the enormity of the challenge facing us but have a very clear aim of what we wish to achieve.”

What's going to happen?

  • ONE main town in each of North Yorkshire’s seven districts will retain a so-called 'core library'.
  • They will lose 40 per cent of their existing staff and will be run with a combination of paid county council library staff and volunteers.
  • The council says the core libraries will become the “engines” for the service in the district providing the professional expertise and support for the other libraries in the district.
  • The core libraries are: Malton, Harrogate, Northallerton, Richmond, Scarborough, Selby and Skipton.
  • Some libraries have also been designated as 'hybrid libraries', where the cost of the premises and one paid member of staff would be met by the county council with volunteers working alongside the staff member.
  • The hybrid libraries are: Filey, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon and Whitby.
  • There will also be a raft of 'community managed libraries', which will be handed over to communities, but will receive between 5 and 15 hours a week of professional support.
  • The community libraries are: Catterick, Colburn, Crosshills, Easingwold, Eastfield, Sherburn, Stokesley and Thirsk, which will receive between 12 and 15 hours of professional support. Bedale, Bentham, Boroughbridge, Helmsley, Ingleton, Kirkbymoorside, Leyburn, Norton, Pateley Bridge, Scalby, Settle, Starbeck and Tadcaster, which will receive between five and seven hours a week of support.