Bath & North East Somerset Council has announced plans for a new approach for the delivery of a network of community run libraries across the area.
The Council’s intention is to provide upfront investment advice and professional support for these community libraries, and to work with local communities to identify the best way to develop this concept to ensure it meets local needs.
The proposals aim to build on successful community library projects in the B&NES area, where volunteers run their own services which are tailored to their community’s needs. Local independent libraries already exist in Chew Stoke, Larkhall and Combe Hay.
The plans form part of an ‘invest to save’ project by the Council, with a proposed upfront investment of £275,000 to bring better more community-focused libraries to many areas that currently have difficulty accessing library services.
As part of these plans, the Council will also be looking to work with local communities and parish councils to move existing branch libraries onto a community-led model.
Councillor Karen Warrington (Conservative, Clutton), Cabinet Member for Transformation & Customer Services, said: “We feel passionately that supporting local communities to develop their own approach to community libraries makes this service more sustainable in the longer term and gives local people more say over how they are run and what is on offer.
“At the same time, it’s no secret that the Council is currently dealing with a significant financial challenge, and this ‘invest to save’ approach will help to secure the future of our local library service whilst at the same time delivering the longer-term savings that we need to make.
“In addition to the upfront investment, the Council will continue to provide ongoing support to those running their community library.
“This is not about the Council withdrawing support from local libraries – it’s about finding innovative solutions that can help keep our libraries open, and even expand them into new locations and new audiences.
“Under the Council’s new approach these ‘libraries’ will be independently run and could be shared spaces and literally be anywhere – a café, a hall, a health centre or even a local shop.
“They could be very small or larger spaces with more room for events or space to meet, with range of books and materials tailored to meet local needs.
“In addition readers will still be able to order books directly from LibrariesWest via – www.librarieswest.org.uk – and the Council will ensure that books ordered in this way could be delivered to each venue to be collected by the customer at their convenience.”
Cllr Warrington added: “We are planning to have a smooth transition to the new approach and will be listening to local people and working with each local community on a case by case basis.”
The three main libraries in Bath, Keynsham and Midsomer Norton will continue to be run separately from this initiative and managed by the Council.
As part of the £275,000 investment the Council will be setting aside a start-up fund of £5,000 per scheme to assist with the development of community libraries, providing books from its central stock and will also be supporting interested groups with a package of bespoke training and access to a wide range of targeted community services delivered by the Council.
Under this scheme local community groups would be responsible for the running costs, staff and managing the volunteers.
Public meetings have already been held across the area and various community groups and Parish Councils have expressed interest in being considered.
Further meetings will be held at the area forums in November 2017 to explain how the scheme can work in areas that have yet to express an interest.