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Fresh Strategy After Library Overhaul In North Yorkshire

Fresh Strategy After Library Overhaul In North Yorkshire

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Stuart Minting at 1:13pm 16th April 2020.

A local authority which handed over 33 libraries to varying levels of community responsibility to cut costs will next week consider the authority’s first strategy for the service since the major reorganisation.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leading members will hear the authority has received strong public support for its ambition to recognise the huge contribution in time, energy, commitment and fundraising efforts of community groups to the service.

The council has a statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all those who live, work or study in the area.

In providing the service, the council must encourage both adults and children to make full use of the library service, and lend books and other printed material free of charge.

A six-month public consultation exercise over the strategy, which aims to ensure the council fulfils its statutory duties, concluded in February with 83 per cent of respondents rating it as ‘very good’ or ‘good’, and support for its objectives.

These aims included for the service to support and develop literacy skills, reading, creativity and innovation to help people and businesses realise their potential; supporting improvement of health and wellbeing; providing resources, skills and support to be digitally connected and to become a focal point for communities to identify and support opportunities to work together.

The consultation also drew calls for the council to provide long-term support for its 2,100-strong army of volunteers and funding for community libraries, with several comments that “libraries are essential for communities”, and that “the local authority should not have to rely on volunteers”.

Councillor Greg White, the authority’s executive member for libraries, said while libraries were undergoing a constant process of evolution, it had become increasingly clear that libraries were key community assets and “help ensure people don’t fall through the gaps”.

He said:

“Everything we do is inter-connected and the libraries are effectively informal community centres.

There are a lot of lonely people out there and libraries are one place where they can go to meet people and have a chat without being expected to make a purchase.”

Last year, a review on the second anniversary of the austerity measure found the changes had led to library opening hours increasing and the county’s libraries had even managed to buck the national trend of declining library visits.

Cllr White said while changes to the service had exceeded expectations, the authority would not think of the library service as “mission accomplished” and would continue to work on making it sustainable.

He said:

“The concern remains, and it is the same across the whole of the third sector where volunteers are involved, over the age profile of the volunteers.

A lot of people who are volunteers now are young retired who have got a good final salary based pension and can afford to take time to volunteer and put something back into the community.

It is not clear in ten or 20 years’ time there will be that pool of volunteers as it is likely people will be working later.”


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