The 15 remaining major libraries in Lincolnshire, including Lincoln Central Library, are officially in the hands of new providers after Lincolnshire County Council signed over the service.
The formal hand-over comes after a controversial decision to turn 30 libraries into volunteer-run hubs to save around £2 million.
Some 698 volunteers stepped forward to run the 30 county community hubs, each supported by £5,000 county council funding a year.
The ‘new chapter’ for the county’s 15 core libraries and their 230 remaining staff began on Monday, April 4 with the transfer to not-for-profit organisation Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).
GLL takes on a new model of library service agreed in February 2015.
As well as the management of core libraries, GLL will handle the county’s online library services and specialist support for those unable to reach their nearest library.
GLL will also offer professional advice and support to community hubs.
After two legal challenges and a judicial review, the council is welcoming GLL in a bid to boost services and bring in new customers.
Nick Worth, Executive Councillor for Libraries, also volunteers at his local library in Holbeach.
He said: “It’s been a huge process to get through. For me, libraries were unsustainable in their previous format and we had to do things differently.
“I think we have a really good foundation now to move forward with the core libraries and community hubs with GLL, who have a huge amount of expertise in running libraries.”
Peter Bundey, Deputy Managing Director for GLL, said: “GLL is the UK’s largest leisure charitable social enterprise with extensive experience in providing high quality library services and boosting library visits and book loans.
“We are listening people to understand what they want in terms of changes to the service. We are making the libraries more vibrant places.
“Initial improvements will include investment in the Mablethorpe mobile service, we’re introducing a reading garden at Lincoln Central Library as well as a teenage library, which will give teenager a great environment to study and learn in as well as making the most of IT facilities.
“I would really say ‘hats off the Lincolnshire’. 700 volunteers is an incredible number of people and a great community spirit behind the service.”
Volunteers feeling the pressure
A Lincoln library user and member of the Metheringham community hub committee (who wished not to be named) said despite efforts their service is “not the same”.
“We have lost the knowledge of the librarians. It saved the library but it’s not the same.
“The group are having to do fundraisers even though the council is putting money in, but I really don’t know if that will last.
“There are lots of volunteers but they are all elderly and they are finding out that it is a proper job. The opening hours have increased so that is good, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep the numbers up.”
Councillor Nick Worth said: “In my own experience of the volunteer-led hubs there is a great atmosphere and it’s a really good mix of older and younger people.
“It’s an opportunity as well for older people to spend a few hours a week getting out of the house and meeting people.
“I think the model is sustainable. We have just short of 700 volunteers and I think it’s important that the council continues to provide funding and support.”
Lincolnshire County Council says since the introduction of volunteer-led hubs, sites are opening an additional 131.5 hours a week – an increase of around 27%.
The county’s 15 core libraries now under the management of Greenwich Leisure Ltd are:
- Lincoln Central
- Long Sutton
- Woodhall Spa
- Market Rasen