COMMUNITY groups are preparing to take over the running of 21 North Yorkshire libraries within the next couple of weeks, thanks to the support of 1,200 new volunteers.
In April, North Yorkshire County Council will hand over control of nearly two dozen libraries to newly-formed charitable organisations to run. A total of 12 libraries will remain under the control of the county council, run with support from volunteers to maintain their current levels of services. There are already nine other community-run libraries in the county.
Like local authorities across the country, North Yorkshire had to consider the future of its libraries in the face of cuts in government funding. The county’s library service has seen its budget almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2017/18.
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But unlike in other parts of the country, none of the libraries will close, after a staggering 1,200 volunteers came forward to keep the resources open.
County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for Library and Information Services, said: “North Yorkshire is the only authority that has gone into this process saying to communities that this is a partnership. We have worked with communities to help find the best way forward for them.
“This has led to great diversity, with libraries creating models to best serve their communities. For example, Richmond, Catterick and Colburn libraries will come together under one community group. In Bentham, the library has found a new home through a partnership between volunteers and local charity Pioneer Projects. In Sherburn, the library will be part of a hub in a partnership with Selby District Council, and in some locations libraries are finding new homes within the County Council’s extra care housing developments.
“Our libraries are cherished by their local communities and, because of that, they have survived and they will flourish.
“Existing community libraries have gone from strength to strength, expanding way beyond book-lending to become key service deliverers. Our community libraries model has been highlighted by the Arts Council and the Local Government Association as an example of best practice.”
The library service reconfiguration comes into effect on 1 April, but not all changes will happen on that date. Some libraries will close for refurbishment before reopening under community management.
Community libraries will receive continuing support from the County Council. They will benefit from professional staff support, as well as receiving new book stock, access to the library management system and broadband access. The County Council will also subsidise overheads, such as rent and utility costs, and all the district councils except Hambleton have announced they will waive business rates.
One of those many volunteers is Vivienne Livesey, who said: “My daughter is 19 now but when she was younger we used our library all the time during the summer holidays. It really gave her a love of books. Being a library volunteer is a wonderful thing that I’m so looking forward to. It gets me out of the house and I’m doing something positive and useful.”
The County Council is also making a one-off investment of £350,000 to help to give libraries the flexibility needed to deliver the widening range of services they offer. This includes a community library fund of £120,000, equating to £4,000 for each of the 30 community libraries. Library groups can bid for money for improvements including minor repairs, new furniture and equipment. There is £189,500 for the 12 County Council-managed libraries for improvements such as new furniture and minor repairs. Finally, £40,000 is available to replace signage and information to reflect the partnership with communities and the new nature of the services provided.