North Yorkshire County Council warned to fulfill statutory library duty

Richmond Library.

North Yorkshire County Council, which saved £1.4m by handing over 33 libraries to varying levels of community responsibility, has been warned it must continue to fulfil its statutory duty.

A review on the second anniversary of the North Yorkshire County Council cost-cutting measure has found while the changes have led to library opening hours increasing, maintaining the services with volunteers was of “greatest concern”.

A report to the authority’s corporate and partnerships overview and scrutiny committee has found since the changes were introduced in 2017 library opening hours across the county have increased.

It states while declining numbers of visits to libraries was a national phenomenon, the trend was halted last year in North Yorkshire with an increase of 1.6 per cent.

A report to the authority’s corporate and partnerships overview and scrutiny committee said last year had also seen a 69 per cent rise in virtual visits, particularly with regard to borrowing of e-books and other online resources.

The officers’ report states: “This in part reflects the investment made by North Yorkshire, but also potentially the geography and demographic of users. It is also likely that part of this increase is due to volunteer training increasing awareness.”

However, the report also highlights that the number of people who borrowed an item or used a computer over the last year fell by 23 per cent. It also warns while number of book issues per resident remains above average nationally it is likely to continue to decline.

The report states the county council “must be mindful if its duty” under the 1964 Public Libraries Act that will enable it to continue to run a comprehensive and efficient service which takes account of the needs of communities.

The review found the number of library volunteers in the county now stands at 2,143, following 350 new volunteers being recruited over the past year, an overall increase of ten per cent on the previous year.

The report added: “Volunteer recruitment and succession planning remain of greatest concern at all libraries. Two years in and it is recognised at all libraries that the need is to target recruitment to specific skills and availability rather than blanket recruitment.”