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Council stays silent over library plans
SILENCE surrounds the future of keeping dozens of libraries open with the help of volunteers.
Library campaigners have told the Oxford Mail they have yet to be contacted by Oxfordshire County Council since the authority unveiled its plans to staff 21 of its libraries with the help of volunteers.
The county was unable to answer how many volunteers had come forward since it announced its plan on December 12, while the new post of community libraries co-ordinator – which will carry a pay packet of up to £37,000 – remains unfilled.
It said the plans were only meant to have started being phased in a month ago and it was too early to deliver any significant news.
But last night it was unclear how have come forward to volunteer to staff 21 libraries since it was confirmed that their future would rely on volunteers.
The council cabinet had approved a plan to staff 22 libraries entirely with council employees, 16 libraries with a staff half made up of volunteers and five others staffed one-third by volunteers after a four-month public consultation.
Trevor Craig, of the Friends of Wychwood Library, took part in the consultation. He said: “I ticked the box to say I would volunteer and I’ve not heard anything from them.
“If they wanted me to volunteer they should have contacted me – I’m also part of the friends group and I haven’t heard anything from the county council.”
Other libraries have struggled to attract volunteers.
Julia Drown, of the Save Old Marston Library campaign, said: “No local volunteers have come forward for Old Marston Library and I’m not surprised either because it’s a lot to ask volunteers to be responsible for first aid, fire training, the computers – and a whole library.
“If there’s nothing happening I would be pleased because we hope that the county council is reconsidering its strategy.
“Old Marston Library is 50 years old this year and I want it to open for another 50 years and that’s not going to happen with volunteers.
“We haven’t been contacted by any volunteer coordinator. And how many volunteers will be required to work by themselves?”
On its website, the council said: “The council’s 2012/13 budget proposals have made provision for the phased introduction of self-service and for a new post to work closely with communities and friends groups to engage wider community participation in libraries. These proposals would take effect from April 1, 2012.”
But when the Oxford Mail asked how many volunteers were needed, the council said it couldn’t yet say. It remains unclear whether enough suitable candidates have come forward in the areas where they are needed.
A council spokesman said: “As work progresses with friends’ groups and communities it will become clearer how many volunteers will be needed to help staff some libraries.
“As was stated when the cabinet decision was taken on December 12 last year, the three-year process of working closely with relevant library friends groups and communities about implementing the cabinet’s decision would begin in earnest in the early stages of 2012/13.”
A Freedom of Information request to the council has revealed that it plans to install 31 £6,787 self-service machines into libraries across the county, at a total cost of £210,397.
In addition, the council will pay an estimated £19,528.14 a year for the maintenance and upkeep of the machines. Meanwhile the estimated average cost of training each volunteer in first aid and fire safety is £19.75, with all other training being given by the council’s own staff.
Chairman of Save Oxfordshire Libraries Judith Wardle said: “North Leigh has no intention of recruiting volunteers at all.
“The council thinks that people are going to register with their local friends’ group, but a number of friends’ groups have ceased to exist, for example, North Leigh.”
A council spokesman said: “Those members of the community who want to express an interest to volunteer can discuss this with relevant friends’ groups or get a form from libraries.”