Warning to '˜use it or lose it' over local libraries

A community library which is thriving in Yorkshire has warned that people need to be prepared to 'use it or lose it' as centres close across the county.

Library services are being slashed across the region
Library services are being slashed across the region

As revealed in an investigation by The Yorkshire Post, up to 80 per cent of libraries in some parts of the region are now being run by volunteers.

Now one such library in Wakefield, which has actually seen an increase in membership and longer opening hours since being taken over, says it is possible to make it work. But, organisers have warned, there is only a limited amount of money available.

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“I dread to think what the future is for libraries,” said Philippa Petty, business co-ordinator at Ackworth Community Library near Wakefield. “Hours are being cut, staffing is being cut. It doesn’t bode well.

“I don’t think the future will be volunteer led libraries. Where the funding will come from, I don’t know. There’s only finite amounts of money for a finite amount of libraries.”

The Post investigation, published last month, found that local authority funding has been cut by more than a fifth in five years, with cash sums spent falling by nearly £7m since 2011.

In Calderdale expenditure is down 31 per cent; in North Yorkshire 25 per cent, and in East Riding it has fallen just one per cent - with not a single library closing in the last five years. The biggest number of libraries closed was in Leeds where 19 have shut, while Wakefield has lost 14.

Mrs Petty, who helped set up Ackworth Library as a volunteer-led service in 2013, says its popularity has taken off over time.

“We now have 1,400 members - more than when it was a local authority library,” she said. “We are open more hours - it was four part days a week, it’s now six. Our library has become a community library. It’s come alive.”

The library, run by 30 volunteers, aged 16 to 94, employs the equivalent of one-and-a-half paid staff.

“It works because of the commitment of the volunteers,” said Mrs Petty. “We have time to sit down with people. When Kindles first came in, people thought it was going to be the death knell of the book. We found it very much the opposite. Forty per cent of our members are under 16.

“There is a whole new generation loving books.”

Mrs Petty says Ackworth Library is turning increasingly to commercial streams to keep it going, visiting schools and setting up holiday activities for children.

But more than anything, it and others like it, she says, need the support of the community if they are to continue.

“Support your local library,” she said. “Keep it open and running for the whole of the community. We are a village. It does bring the village together.”

But despite the rising popularity of the service, she says, there is a limit as to what can be achieved. And, with increasing numbers of volunteers turning to the same funding streams, options are becoming more stark.

“We were given £12,000 for the first year,” she said. “After that, there was nothing. We’ve had to stand on our own two feet.

“We’ve had a lot of help from the parish council in that they let us lease the actual room at a peppercorn rent. We get all our actual funding through fundraising and grants, from foundation trusts, the Lions, the Masons, local groups. It’s difficult, in the long term, to find more pots of money. Even without permanent members of staff, there are still expenses. That funding can’t go on forever.”