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North Yorkshire Libraries Prepare for Change


7:02am 20th March 2017

The story of North Yorkshire’s libraries will enter a new chapter next month when community groups take over the running of many libraries and volunteers play a key role in maintaining services at those that remain under North Yorkshire County Council management.

In April, twenty-one more libraries run directly by communities will join the nine existing community libraries, while the 12 libraries remaining under County Council management will be supported by volunteers to maintain their current levels of service.

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.

But while libraries in many parts of the country are closing, North Yorkshire’s flexible, co-operative approach and the massive support of 1,200 new volunteers means that the current reconfiguration of the service will be implemented without losing any libraries.

  • One main town in each of the seven districts of North Yorkshire retains a ‘core’ library with a combination of 60 per cent of current staffing levels and volunteers.  They are in Harrogate, Malton, Northallerton, Richmond, Scarborough, Selby and Skipton; 
  • Hybrid libraries - large and busy libraries catering for significant resident and day-time populations with a combination of 40 per cent current staffing levels and 60% volunteers.  They are in Filey, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon, and Whitby;
  • Twenty one community managed libraries will receive dedicated additional support.  The highest performing eight – Catterick; Colburn; Crosshills; Easingwold; Eastfield; Sherburn; Stokesley and Thirsk - will receive 12-15 hours per week of additional paid staff support.  The remaining 13 - Bedale, Bentham, Boroughbridge,  Helmsley, Ingleton, Kirkbymoorside, Leyburn, Norton, Pateley Bridge, Scalby, Settle, Starbeck and Tadcaster - will receive between 5-7 hours of additional paid staff support. In addition, some financial support for premises costs will be provided.

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.”

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.

Volunteers have long been an important part of libraries. For example, during 2015/16 approximately 1,100 volunteers provided 60,000 hours to the library service. However, the move to community-run libraries has meant calling for many more people to step forward to offer their time and expertise. A recruitment drive by the County Council and community library groups has so far seen a further 1,200 volunteers come forward.

Cllr Metcalfe said:

“We have recruited about 1,200 volunteers to help to run the new community libraries. This is a phenomenal number of people and shows how deeply loved the library service is. 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, effort and expertise.”

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. I just want to help keep something that has such happy memories open and I feel really lucky to get this opportunity. I love libraries and always have. They’re such an important source of information and have so much to offer.”

As part of the County Council’s partnership with communities, the library service has provided an extensive training programme for volunteers, which has been well-received, with comments including “I found the training excellent”, “a really stimulating and well-balanced training package” and “I learned a great deal that will be really useful. Didn’t realise the library did so much.”

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 most District Councils have waived business rates.

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.

Cllr Metcalfe said:

“This investment is important to ensure that libraries remain vibrant, attractive places that are inviting and a pleasure to visit for people in the communities they serve.

We want the service to continue to develop and find new ways of increasing access to council and other services within communities. Libraries are often the first point of contact for people wanting face-to-face advice about using council services, particularly online.  At present, the interiors of many libraries are not sufficiently suited to modern needs.”

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