Oxford to "co-locate" libraries

Oxford to "co-locate" libraries

Oxfordshire county council leader Keith Mitchell has said the council will look at "co-locating" libraries with existing local services, such as fire stations, as part of its four-month consultation on library cuts.

Cllr Mitchell, who earlier this week announced existing plans to close 20 of the area's 43 libraries had been "torn up", will launch the consultation in mid-May. However, he stressed that the £1.7m cut to the library budget was still going ahead.

Mitchell said: "We will try very hard to keep libraries open within the financial envelope."

He said: "We're cutting £35m out of the social care budget and no one much cares; we cut £1.7m from the library budget and everyone cares, it's a big issue. I'm disappointed in that as social care is a huge issue, but we recognise people are very tied to their libraries."

He added that the savings may be made by making some redundancies among library staff, and by moving some libraries in smaller villages into shared premises with other council-run buildings. He said: "The people who work at the libraries, and they are not librarians they are library managers, we can't afford to keep all of them going, and we are going to have to work with people and communities to see how we can deal with that. The smaller ones [libraries] we are looking to the community to provide support".

He added: "In some places, there is a library, a village hall . . . they are all in separate buildings and they are all open at different times. I don't see why you can't have a library in a fire station.

"We are seriously looking at co-locating."

In a statement announcing the consultation plans, he said: "I want to see libraries remain open but this can only happen if, in some places, volunteers step forward to help to run them. We have seen how effective a Friends Group can be and believe they should form an essential component of every library service provided by the council."

Library campaigner Desmond Clarke said:  "Oxfordshire's decision to tear up their plans for library closures is most encouraging and allows proper debate about how the council can achieve savings by reducing its excessive management structure and support service costs.

"It is also encouraging that several other councils, including Somerset and the Isle of Wight, have decided to re-think their initial proposals close up to half their libraries while leaving expensive administrative structures in place."