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Community groups asked to takeover management of Wirral libraries
A major shake-up of the Wirral library network could see local community groups running part or all of more than a dozen "re-modelled" libraries across the peninsula.
The move – being studied by Wirral Council cabinet this week – has been compelled by financial pressures from a Government squeeze on local authority resources.
A report to cabinet on Thursday indicates local community groups are aware of the pressures on libraries, have offered assistance and acknowledged that libraries "cannot be protected over other services."
It says that by 2016, overall council funding will have been cut by more than 50% through Government grant reductions over a four-year period. A further 500 staff are expected to lose their jobs before Christmas.
A public inquiry was ordered into the proposal, which claimed £20m savings from the closures would be spent on neighbourhood multi-purpose centres across Wirral under the banner "fewer but better."
The so-called "Strategic Asset Review" was seen as the Labour administration's flagship policy but was eventually abandoned in chaos.
A special library strategy, set up in December 2011, advocated libraries should be regarded as both a services and welcoming places that met the needs of the community.
Suggested targets included the merging of key sites as library one-stop shops, which is now well under way.
Councillors have been told the merging of libraries with one-stop shops and the inclusion of public services and voluntary partners has "enhanced sites as community and neighbourhood focal points."
The report claims local community involvement in the running of libraries offers a range of benefits apart from reduced operating costs.
They include bringing "renewed energy and innovation to the service; enabling the libraries to stay open longer and increased use by local people through an enhanced sense of ownership.”
Thursday’s report indicates the traditional role of libraries of book lending was now matched by a community role in offering activities and services such as baby bounce, reading groups and friends and user groups.
The Government, Local Government Association, the Arts Council and the Society of Chief Librarians all recognise the changing role of libraries and how community libraries will continue to play a part in localities.
Cabinet members are being asked to allow officers to open talks with local groups regarding their degree of involvement in running community libraries.
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