Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Proposals to cut funding leaves the region’s libraries looking into an uncertain future.
THE next chapter for North Devon’s public libraries is shrouded in uncertainty after proposals for a major shake up of the service were revealed.
Devon County Council needs to make savings in its library budget of £1.5million by 2017 and at its cabinet meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) will be asked to approve a three month consultation on how the service is run, commencing on April 17.
Libraries in North Devon’s main towns of Barnstaple, Bideford, Torrington, Holsworthy, Ilfracombe and South Molton could be redeveloped into ‘Devon Centres’ offering a wider range of library and sharing space with other community services.
But those in the smaller communities of Chulmleigh, Braunton, Combe Martin, Lynton, Northam and Appledore face a less certain future as the council considers ways they could continue with less funding.
One option could be local groups stepping forward to run some or all of the services, but fears for much-loved village libraries are already growing.
However, well-known local children’s author Nick Arnold, who led the campaign to save Appledore Library from closure in 2006, says this time no library need close.
The county council has come under fire recently for proposals to axe day care centres and residential homes, but Mr Arnold of the Friends of Appledore Library, believes this consultation will be different.
“The council is trying to save money and improve the service with the help of community organisations,” he said.
“Friends of Appledore Library is involved with this process and we are working to ensure that people who use the libraries get the best possible deal and service. This shouldn’t involve purely voluntary run libraries though as we don’t think they will work in the long term.
“What this does mean is everybody who likes libraries and uses them really needs to support them, whether by encouraging others to join, borrowing books or perhaps offering to help their local friends group.”
The council says there has been a decline in traditional book lending and rise in the popularity of online and ‘e-book’ use. It is also proposing to look at ways to cut costs with its mobile library and find alternate ways of providing a similar service.
Not all are optimistic. In Braunton, local district and parish councillor Jasmine Chesters said the closure of the library – already on short hours - would be a huge loss and another essential service gone.
“I know money is tight but there are things you can cut back on without hindering peoples’ way of life,” she said.
“I think when we’re trying to encourage children to read rather than go on their computers, it’s a backward step, but it’s probably a done deal.”
In Combe Martin, District Councillor Julia Clark said the village library was ‘absolutely important’, not only for the sake of children and adult readers, but its computer facilities and the many events held there.
“I think it is very important it is retained and I shall be looking at it in more depth in my role as district and parish councillor. Now they’re trying to hand it back to people in the street, but it’s not fair and it’s not right – you need professionals all the time to help with these things,” she said.
The libraries consultation can be viewed from April 17 at www.toughchoices.co.uk/environment-and-community-services