Volunteers take North Yorkshire libraries into the future

Community groups and volunteers across North Yorkshire will take the county's libraries into the future from 1 April.

Community groups and volunteers across North Yorkshire will take the county's libraries into the future from 1 April.

Twenty-one more libraries run directly by community volunteers will join the nine existing community libraries, while the libraries remaining under North Yorkshire County Council management will be supported by volunteers to maintain their current levels of service.

The reconfiguration of the county's library service is a result of reductions in government funding. The library service has seen its budget almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2017/18.

However, the County Council's flexible, co-operative partnership with communities and the support of 1,200 new volunteers means the current reconfiguration is being implemented without losing any libraries.

Community groups have prepared for the handover in partnership with the library service and the County Council's Stronger Communities team, which helps communities to become more self-reliant and which has community libraries as one of its priorities.

Julie Blaisdale, Assistant Director, Library and Community Services, said: "Volunteers have long played an important part of libraries. For example, last year about 1,100 volunteers provided 60,000 hours to the library service. This adds tremendous value to the services libraries can offer.

"We knew we were asking a lot when we took the offer to run their own libraries to communities, but we also knew how loved libraries are and how determined people are that they should not only survive, but thrive. We knew the commitment and expertise was there within our communities to make this happen.

"The success of the move to community-run and supported libraries is a genuine partnership between the County Council and the many residents who are investing their time and effort."

A volunteer recruitment drive by the County Council and community library groups has so far seen a further 1,200 people come forward. In future, both community-managed and County Council libraries will need to continue to attract volunteers to maintain and enhance their services.

Val Coulson, 71, is one of the new volunteers. She said: "I've been retired over ten years now. I felt ready for a new challenge and ready to meet some new people. I do feel that the library is a very valuable resource for the community and that it needs to be kept going. So when this business came up about them having to cut back I felt like it was a worthwhile thing to volunteer for. I didn't use the library an awful lot before this, but I've been so impressed. It's been great finding out about all the different activities that go on within the library since I've started doing the training. I didn't quite realise just how much went on, so I'm pleased that I can hopefully help to keep something so wonderful open and running."

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 most District Councils have waived business rates.

The library service reconfiguration comes into effect on 1 April. Most libraries will continue without a break in service and with the same opening hours, but some libraries will close briefly before re-opening and some will have revised opening hours. Opening hours and other details of community-managed libraries can be found here from 1 April. 

This story was published 28 March 2017