Sun, 03 Nov 2019
THE number of people volunteering at West Berkshire libraries has risen as the service faced its first full year with depleted staff.
The 47 library staff were supported by 322 volunteers, who contributed 12,035 hours between April 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019.
The number of volunteers increased by 13 per cent – 283 to 322 – and volunteer hours also increased by 18 per cent, 10,147 to 12,035.
Having to reduce its budget by £19m in 2016 through a reduction in government funding, the council looked at closing eight of the district’s nine libraries.
The council called on volunteers to help keep libraries open, while asking town and parish councils to contribute £150,000 each year to support the service.
Wash Common Library was reopened by volunteers in December 2018.
Last year was the first year of delivering the service with 44 per cent fewer staff and resources, with no transition funding.
When asked at a recent Thatcham Town Council meeting, West Berkshire Council culture and libraries manager Paul James said communities needed to step forward.
He said: “If we want libraries to go on being at the heart of the community, what’s going to help that is communities taking a step forward and telling the Government why they are important.
“I think over the last two or three years we have done the groundwork to say they are well supported in West Berkshire and well loved.
“I don’t know what the Government has in mind, but I think our best defence is to get usage up.”
The net cost of running West Berkshire libraries last year was £1,112,939, down from £1,228,909 in 2017/18.
Staffing costs fell from £815,513 to £810,406 compared with increased premises costs – £289,506 to £296,648 – while supplies and services fell from £300,124 to £200,199.
Total expenditure fell from £1,405,143 to £1,307,252. This was offset by increased income of £194,314, up from £176,234.
Income from fees and charges rose from £74,923 to £96,318, while other sources of income, such as donations, fell from £11,539 to £7,709.
Contributions from town and parish councils rose from £89,772 to £90,287 – £60,000 short of the council’s requested amount.
Newbury and Thatcham account for the largest contributions, but both town councils are yet to commit.
When asked about the future funding of libraries Mr James said the situation was unclear.
He said: “Everything seems to have ground to a halt. We have a statutory obligation to provide the service, but nothing to show what this is.
“Compared to the growing timebomb of adult social care I think libraries are some way down the list.”
The number of library visitors increased by 4.1 per cent, and new members rose by 2.7 per cent.
E-library use, including e-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines, increased by 34.5 per cent.
The Summer Reading Challenge had 3,430 children participate – up 5.5 per cent.
Executive member for community wellbeing Rick Jones (Con, Tilehurst and Purley) said: “Levels of usage and community engagement with the library service in West Berkshire increased significantly during 18/19 and I would like to congratulate our staff and our many volunteers for their hard and innovative work, and for a very successful year.”