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Council considers ‘cooperative’ libraries

Council considers ‘cooperative’ libraries

🕔07.Feb 2014

Birmingham’s community libraries may be transferred from city council ownership to be run by staff and volunteers under a radical plan to avoid axing services.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward is looking at the possibility of setting up a co-operative, where existing library managers are helped to run the service by local residents.

Co-operative status may also be extended to the Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square, Cllr Ward revealed. The new civic library is facing a £1 million-plus shortfall in its running costs.

The proposal being looked at is similar to a venture in York, which will soon become the first council to transfer library operations to a “community benefit society”.

The society in York will be mainly funded by the council but will work on an independent basis, jointly owned by staff and residents who will be able to stand for election to its board. Every member will have a single vote once they buy a £1 share.

Cllr Ward explained that Birmingham’s planned co-operative would receive an annual grant from the council to pay for library services. It would then be up to the co-operative to work out library opening hours and staffing levels.

He said: “I am exploring the possibility that staff run their own library service.”

“Council officers are working with the library managers to develop a business plan.”

Cllr Ward stressed that the 10 district committees would have to be convinced about the co-operative proposal before any firm decisions could be made.

He added: “I have also asked about the implications of transferring the Library of Birmingham into the co-operative.”

The idea was put forward after it became clear Birmingham’s 10 council district committees were considering closing some community libraries as part of a £2 million package of cuts.

Libraries at Aston, West Heath, Wylde Green and Spring Hill have been earmarked for closure.

Labour council leaders are likely to find emergency funding to keep the libraries open for a further year, but the scale of savings that must be made to meet the Chancellor’s austerity programme means that it is highly unlikely all of Birmingham’s community libraries will survive if they remain under direct council control.

Cllr Ward said a library co-operative would be in line with the Standing up for Birmingham campaign, which seeks to mobilise an army of volunteer to help deliver services. Running libraries, clearing snow, picking up litter and cleaning the pavements could increasingly be carried out by unpaid volunteers, he forecast.

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