Show a little love for your local library

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Libraries in Northamptonshire can expect big changes in the coming years due to county council funding pressures.

On the eve of National Libraries Day, features editor Joni Ager finds out why we must not lose this vital service.

This time last year, eight libraries in Northamptonshire were facing the axe.

After an overwhelming show of support from people who use those libraries, Northamptonshire County Council back-tracked, announcing it would no longer close them and would look at other ways of saving money.

But councillors made it clear that money must be saved and revealed it wanted to recruit an army of volunteers to help run our libraries. If this couldn’t be achieved, it reserved the right to reconsider closing libraries.

Local library supporters are planning a number of events tomorrow to mark National Libraries Day as a way of showing support for the service.

People in Irchester are being invited to head down to their library tomorrow and take part in a Hug Your Library event.

Staff and volunteers are asking people to physically hug the library as a show of support for the services it offers.

There will also be a Nintendo DS swap shop and a coffee and cake sale.

Irchester Library records more than 23,000 visits per year. This is expected to increase around 10 per cent a year, reaching almost 36,000 by 2015. Yet this is one of the libraries that was earmarked for closure this time last year.

Veronica Lane, library supervisor at Irchester and the library’s only paid employee, said: “I know how much the library is used, not only by people who come in to borrow a book but for the many activities that take place here every week. It is a place for socialising and interacting with different generations.

“A lot of people think because we were not shut, we were saved. That is not the case. It is only a reprieve. We need people to come in and use the library and the events we run.

“We also need donations from customers and non-customers and support from businesses. “Although it is provided for by the county council, without the support of the general public and their very generous donations we will be in the same position again in 12 months.

“I am the only employee and we need volunteers to come in and run some of our activities. Volunteers can take on some of those which allows us to concentrate on helping the people who come in for Blue Badges and bus passes. We are now a one-stop-shop for a lot of things.

“The Friends of Irchester Library have been brilliant, without their support we would not be here.”

Another National Libraries Day event is taking place at Raunds Library where the Women’s Institute will be hosting a cake sale tomorrow morning.

Regardless of how many people continue to use their library, there are big changes ahead.

The council spends £4.6m a year to run the service, which it wants to reduce to £3.52m by April 2012.

Around £30,000 of that will be saved by reducing the number of paid staff and there are plans to increase the number of library volunteers from 400 to 1,600.

These volunteers would help by greeting customers, stacking shelves and running groups such as Rhymetime, a sing-a-long session for pre-school children.

Libraries will also offer an even greater range of services.

Staff can already issue bus passes and NHS health trainers often use libraries as their base.

In future, even more services such as jobs clubs and credit unions could be run from libraries.

Sunday opening will become commonplace in all libraries to accommodate this, as reported in yesterday’s Evening Telegraph.

Handing over control of libraries to the community has been considered but in Cambridgeshire there are 10 community-run libraries, some of which are struggling and all require more support than originally anticipated.

But the council has said it will seek to take over the running of libraries from two other local authorities within the next couple of years.

The Northamptonshire Library Service generates £800,000 a year mainly through fees and hire charges for late returns and DVD hire, computer use and sales, and taking on the responsibility for other libraries will increase its income.

The Hug Your Library event at Irchester Library is tomorrow from 11am.