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Fair solution to libraries’ future


5:21pm 14th June 2011

North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive today backed a plan to maintain a vibrant library service while making necessary savings fairly across the county.

Today’s decision gives more time for community ownership solutions to be put forward for smaller branch libraries, but means that the mobile library service will cease to operate from the end of this September.

The council needs to save £69 million in total over the next few years and £2 million was set to be found from the library budget. The greatest savings must be made in the first two years due to the government’s frontloading of its funding settlement.  Further funding has now been found, so reducing the library savings to £1.7 million, which provides greater time to work with communities to find solutions.

North Yorkshire currently has 42 branch libraries, 10 mobiles and one “super-mobile” library equipped with internet technology.  In recent years the council has encouraged greater direct community involvement in developing and delivering library services.  Hugely successful examples of community run libraries already exist  in the towns of Hawes in Upper Wensleydale, Grassington in Wharfedale, North Stainley,  in a village pub in Hudswell in Swaledale and in an extra care outlet in Bainbridge. 

County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for the Library and Information Service said:

“Our library service, one of the most outstanding in the country, is at a crossroads. The necessity of making savings has provided the incentive for us to step back and come up with innovative solutions to maintain a vibrant service into the future.  We cannot do this on our own.  The support of our communities is essential if we are to be successful in this endeavour.  The challenge is to keep our libraries open in a way that is sustainable so that they can grow and develop to meet future needs.

“One size does not fit all.  We will be working with our communities on plans on a library by library basis.”

The county council has also taken full account of the passionate belief of those engaged in the consultation process that savings should be shared across all libraries.

The county council’s executive agreed a revised set of proposals which will maintain the core service across the county, including market towns, while retaining its supermobile service to remote, sparsely populated areas:

  • Libraries in key centres of population will offer the full range of services but with fewer library staff and opening hours reduced from their current level including no Sunday opening.  Existing opening hours could be maintained by increasing the use of volunteers in all libraries as well as increasing the number of groups and partners using libraries as their base or outlet.  This already works successfully in Harrogate. Libraries in this category would include Catterick, Crosshills, Filey, Harrogate, Knaresborough, Malton/Norton (one site), Northallerton, Pickering, Richmond, Ripon, Scarborough, Selby, Settle, Sherburn, Skipton, Stokesley, Thirsk and Whitby.
  • Libraries in smaller towns, areas of significant population and areas of social or rural deprivation will have support towards accommodation, bookstock, IT facilities and broadband connectivity.  They will also be provided with an element of staffing based in the library, albeit at a reduced rate than currently provided. 

The county council will need to continue to work in partnership with community groups and organisations in these areas to develop services in Bedale, Bentham, Boroughbridge, Colburn, Easingwold, Eastfield, Hawes, Helmsley, Ingleton, Kirkbymoorside, Leyburn, Pateley Bridge, Scalby, Starbeck and Tadcaster

  • The county council will continue to seek local solutions with local partners and groups for those libraries in unsuitable premises or in close proximity to the county’s key centre libraries.  If a solution is found the library service will continue to provide regularly updated book stock as well as training and advice from members of the professional library team for volunteers and partners. Libraries in this category include Barlby, Bilton, East Ayton, Embsay, Gargrave, Great Ayton, Hunmanby and Masham

There has been a very encouraging response from interested groups so far and the revised approach provides time for communities to find a solution. 

  • The cost of the current mobile service is acknowledged as no longer sustainable and that other solutions must be found.   Many consultation responses have come forward with offers in the form of library outlets in village halls, shops and pubs and in some instances villages, are investigating the restoration of their “Reading Rooms”. The county council will also retain the supermobile to sustain provision in the most rural reaches of the county.  Moreover the Home Library and Information Service, which is run successfully by volunteers, will compensate further by ensuring that we continue to provide for those unable to access the library service by any other means.

A further report will be brought back to the Executive in October 2011 outlining the outcome of partnership discussions with communities.  It will also detail how further savings of £1m will be achieved between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Cllr Metcalfe, added: “We have listened hard during this extensive consultation and feel heartened that our outstanding libraries are held in such high regard as centres of excellence for reading, learning and community engagement.  We have had over 6,000 written responses and 2,000 people have attended public meetings.  For this reason we believe the solutions we will finally put together with our community partners will help to sustain a vital service into the future, shared across the county while making the necessary savings.”

The county council has welcomed the wide range of ideas and offers put forward during the public consultation.  This remains a vital approach if the county is to maintain a comprehensive library network.

Many communities groups have put forward ideas.  These include:

  • School students have suggested running a community café in a town’s library as part of the enterprise and citizenship curriculum and to help maintain the library’s opening hours.
  • The parish council have expressed an interest in taking over Barlby library near Selby to develop it into a community centre
  • Community groups offering to become “keyholders” and take over library caretaking roles in order to maintain or extend opening hours
  • Village and church halls offering outlets and drop-off points for books.
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