Big Society Plan To Save Library

Councillors expected to endorse 'Big Society' proposals to save York Gardens Library

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An innovative rescue package has been devised to save York Gardens Library from closure, that will see the threatened facility continue to provide a children's library service, alongside some adult provision, a homework club, public-access IT and internet facilities and a community space.

The key to the rescue plan is a Big Society solution involving local staff, the greater use of volunteers and utilising offers of help and support from a local private school, the Thomas’s School Foundation, that wants to contribute more to itssurrounding neighbourhoods.

The council is also close to striking a deal with a second local school, the Thames Christian College, willing to hire the upstairs space in the library and use it for additional classrooms.
The income from this will help the council meet its savings targets, but also allow the space to be used at other times by residents and community groups - especially in the evenings, at weekends and throughout the school holidays.

The Big Society solution that's being explored involves the existing library staff forming a ‘staff mutual’ and taking over the running of the library. The system would first undergo a trial stage with the staff forming a unit with its own business plan - this would be used to judge whether the proposal can be turned into a ‘Mutual’.
The Government is encouraging front-line public sector staff to take over and run their services as mutual organisations. In November ministers announced the creation of a £10m fund to help start up fledgling staff mutuals.

The future of the library is also likely to be boosted by the prospect of its building becoming home to the borough's Learning Resources Service (LRS) which provides books, artefacts and other resources for teachers to use in classrooms.
There is also the possibility that some services from the neighbouring one o'clock club and children's centre could also expand into the building to provide enhanced services for local children and teenagers.

Culture spokesman Cllr Sarah McDermott says:
"These innovative and far reaching proposals are what the Big Society is all about - and they promise a much brighter future for York Gardens Library.

"Staff members have come up with an exciting plan that could see them form their own mutual trust to run the library. And we also had concrete offers from 300 members of the public who said they were willing to volunteer to work in the library to keep it open.”

Councillors will discuss the proposals at a special meeting of the environment, culture and community safety scrutiny committee on February 28th.

Members will also be asked to approve changes to opening hours at nine of the borough's 11 libraries. The changes will mean that the local library network will be open for a total of 436 hours each week - and all will stay open for longer at busy times like Saturday mornings.

Supporting the York Garden 's proposals, including their income generating measures, as well as altering opening hours at other libraries and adjusting staff levels will deliver savings to the council of £719,000 a year.

For more information about local library services visit
To view the committee report being considered by councillors at next week's meeting go to

February 21st, 2011