Plan for volunteer army to keep all libraries in our county open

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Cash-strapped council bosses will turn to members of the public for help in a bid to keep all 36 of the county’s libraries open.

Northamptonshire County Council members are today set to debate a strategy which could see the number of library volunteers nearly quadruple from 457 to 1,600 in just four years.

The plan designed to provide savings of more than £1million also includes cutting up to 17 jobs, reducing premises costs and sustaining an income of £800,000 a year.

But if at the half-way stage of the four-year strategy targets are not being met, officials say they could fall back on the initial plans to close libraries.

The council had proposed the closure of eight libraries earlier this year, but after a major backlash scrapped it.

In a report attached to the proposal, cabinet member for libaries for the authority Cllr Heather Smith says: “This strategy proposes a tough but realistic future for our libraries in the context of the ongoing pressure on public finance.

“In short, we cannot afford to continue to fund the service completely ourselves.”

Cllr Smith added: “We asked partners and individuals for their help and the response has been both encouraging and inspiring.”

From a public consultation in September, more than 1,500 library users answered questions on the service’s future, costings and volunteering.

Out of the responses, more than half said they would volunteer.

Many left contact details if needed.

Ms Smith said: “The strategy forms a future where everyone’s contribution – in money, in time, or in kind – is asked for and recognised and appreciated.

“From the start, we have stated that the progress on the strategy will be reviewed in summer 2013, as a mid point. If progress is not on track, we will have to put the closures back on the table.”

This has concerned Liberal Democrat councillors in the county, who have criticised the plans.

The service currently costs £5.6million a year and generates revenues of £800,000.

Latest figures published by the council show that the county’s libraries receive more than three million visits a year, with each visit costing £1.67.

Under the proposed strategy, Sunday opening hours would also be considered.