In its latest round of cuts, North Yorkshire County Council has earmarked 20 of its libraries for downgrading to ‘community managed libraries’, run by volunteers without professional librarians and dependant upon the community for raising money to meet building costs.
This includes Starbeck Library. Starbeck is a relatively deprived area and fundraising for local facilities such as Starbeck Christmas Lights has always been difficult. To expect the community to raise £65,500 yearly for library building costs (county’s figure for 2013/14) is completely unrealistic. It will not happen and the library will close.
The county has offered ‘a contribution’ to the building running costs but no sum or proportion of the costs has been proffered. The library is heavily used. Parents with toddlers pay a visit to choose picture books often while collecting their older children from school. These parents are not likely to start using the main Harrogate library: the time involved and bus fares are strong disincentives. Schoolchildren also use the library to do their homework and change their library books on the way home from school, often using computer facilities that are unavailable at home. There are currently 939 Starbeck Library members under 16 years of age. It is unlikely that they will make a bus journey to Harrogate Library if Starbeck Library closes. The time expended and cost would be disincentives. The staff in Starbeck Library guide our children to books they will like and ensure their reading for pleasure is continuous. They also organise activities throughout school holidays to ensure our children’s minds remain active. Unpaid volunteers will not have the qualifications or experience to continue these activities. Starbeck library is accessible on foot for many of our elderly residents, unlike the town library. At present there are 658 registered members over 55 years of age using the library. The librarians in Starbeck library know their users: they help them choose books they know will be enjoyed. The library is regarded as the social hub of our community by many elderly residents. There is a case for upgrading the status of Starbeck Library from a community managed library to a ‘hybrid library’ where cost of the premises and one member of staff would be met by the county council. The county council has recently spent £548,000 refurbishing a new Starbeck Library to include facilities for home visiting, school library services and mobile library accommodation.
Although the school library service is no longer accommodated, the home library service still remains. We cannot justify this expenditure if the library closes in the near future.
Also, Harrogate is the largest town in the county and, as such, deserves consideration for more than a single library with professional staff provision.
If we want to save Starbeck Library, I would urge your readers to send in their views by completing North Yorkshire’s consultation survey.
This can be done online at www.northyorks.gov.uk/libraryconsultation or a paper copy can be obtained at any library. The consultation ends on February 8, 2015. For more information, there is a drop in event at Starbeck Library on Tuesday, December 2 1-5pm.
(Chair, Starbeck Residents Association)
Forest Lane, Starbeck