Community may be asked to volunteer or donate cash to help Northampton’s libraries survive

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BOOK lovers across Northamptonshire have been warned the county’s libraries will have to change over the coming years if they are to survive.

Earlier this year, a number of libraries faced closure because of multi-million-pound savings needed to be made by Northamptonshire County council.

They were saved in a last minute reprieve, but during a meeting with library users at the weekend, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Prebendal), the council’s cabinet member for customer services, said a new approach would have to be taken to keep them open, such as using volunteers to man libraries or asking users for donations.

She said: “The financial challenges we’re currently tackling are well known and it comes as no surprise that we simply cannot afford to continue to completely fund the library service ourselves.

“The thousands of responses we received during our library closure proposals earlier this year showed us how much libraries are valued and we want to harness this enthusiasm and support. In fact, many people have said that they would be prepared to pay something towards keeping their service.”

She added: “We are facing a future where contributions from residents and local organisations, whether in time, in money or in kind, are asked for, recognised and appreciated.”

The councillor said such moves were being explored instead of closures and added that the council was “committed to the county’s 36 libraries”.

But she added libraries would have to become more self-supporting over the next four years, as the council looks to half the cost of the service.

Tim Armit from the Friends of St James Library agreed plans to use libraries as bases for job clubs and business advice centres were sensible, but said he feared more cuts would be demanded in the future by the council.

He said: “There’s a feeling that this is a ‘big ask’ from the council and I’m personally concerned that if we deliver the savings they’ve asked for, what more will they want in 2015?

“We need things laying out a lot more clearly.”