LIBRARIES threatened with closure because of council budget cuts have been given a temporary reprieve after a £650,000 fund was set up to buy them more time.
The closure of 24 libraries – including Boroughbridge, Masham and Pateley Bridge – was set to begin at the start of the financial year in April but the extra money put aside by North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) will allow the branches to stay open for up to 12 months more.
The decision was made by councillors last week after feedback from a public consultation, which ends next month, and is designed to give community groups more time to come up with a plan to take over the running of their library services.
Council leader John Weighell said: “We have always known that libraries are important to our communities and we have taken note of the very strong messages coming out of the library consultation and we have therefore agreed to provide more time to find the best solution possible for a high quality library service.”
The council needs to save around £2m from its library budget over the next four years, with the greatest savings having to be made in the first two years under the Government’s funding settlement.
North Yorkshire currently has 42 branch libraries, 10 mobile libraries, and one ‘super-mobile’ library equipped with internet technology.
The council’s consultation proposals involve concentrating services on the 18 branch libraries most used and most conveniently-sited, and on two super-mobiles.
The 18 main libraries would be supplemented wherever possible by a network of smaller libraries, run by volunteers from their local communities with the support of the county council.
Community-run libraries already operate successfully in Hawes and in a village pub in Hudswell, in Swaledale.
Among those who objected to the council’s proposals was Masham Parish Council which is opposing the closure of the town’s library and withdrawal of the mobile library facility.
It told NYCC: “The nearest library to Masham is Ripon, which is not within easy travelling distance for residents who do not have use of personal transport, or for children of the town as well as residents who may suffer a disability.”
Some responding to the consultation said any cuts should be shared by all libraries, while others made clear the need for more time to put together a coherent plan for any communities wishing to take over their libraries.
The extra £650,000 put aside by councillors has come from two sources – £300,000 from the library service’s book fund, and £350,000 from the general corporate budget.
Coun Weighell said if communities were ready, they could take over running their library services before the extra 12-month period had ended.