Communities in Somerset planning library takeover

Left to right: John Smeaton, Tony Moore, Barbara Shaw and Annie Smith
Image caption Volunteers such as those at Bishops Lydeard could take over library services

In three months, six communities will lose all of their library funding from Somerset County Council.

Some are now looking at how they could save them from closure.

One library at Sunningdale in Yeovil could close while Watchet and Highbridge town councils are waiting on the outcome of a legal challenge to the county council's plans.

Initially the council had wanted to close 20 of its 34 libraries as part of plans to save £80m over three years.

But people in Bruton, Porlock and Bishops Lydeard are planning to take over paying for and running their libraries from October.

Bishops Lydeard library stands at the foot of the Quantock Hills and is in a small room it has occupied for more than 40 years.

The old building is in the middle of the village and is near the parish church and primary school.

The group has decided to opt out of the county council's library service and during the parish council's first appeal for volunteers 87 people signed up to help run the library.

'Left behind for us'

They have been offered the library rent-free for two years by the owner, who currently leases it to the council.

Initially it will come well stocked.

John Smeaton, chair of the library steering group, said: "Virtually everything that is in there at the moment - except anything that has Somerset County Council written on it - will be left behind for us.

"So that includes things like the desks, the shelving and the books."

Trustees at Bruton library, by contrast, have chosen to buy back in to the network, meaning they still have access to inter-library loans and book transfers.

But for Bishops Lydeard it comes down to money.

"We didn't want to start something that we wouldn't be able to continue after a year because we didn't have enough money coming in," said Mr Smeaton.

"To opt into the library service was actually quite an expensive process. Apart from all the overheads of running the library we would have to pay for the training of staff, for the broadband and IT and so on."

They will be fundraising to pay for utility bills and new books.

No professionals

They are also hoping people will donate good quality books and have already collected 25 boxes of books, some which will become library stock and others which will be sold at the village fete.

The library will be run entirely by volunteers - without a professional librarian between them.

One of the volunteers, Annie Smith, has recently retired after 15 years as deputy head of the village school. She wants the library to stay open for local children and hopes to run storytelling sessions.

"I've always had a love of books and I feel its vital to instil in children a love of literature. To enjoy books, to enjoy reading."

Tony Moore will be volunteer manager of library, in charge of organising rotas and training.

"I've never run a library. I've had management experience in my working life and basically I think it's all about people, enthusing people, and I think people seem to be very enthusiastic already."

The pioneers of this community library will be hoping Bishop Lydeard's enthusiasm does not start fading any time soon.

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