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'County libraries need your support'
“THE hard work starts now”.
That’s the message from campaigners fighting to save libraries across Oxfordshire.
They have vowed to keep the pressure up, despite a pledge by the county council to help keep them open.
An unprecedented public backlash against plans to cut funding to 20 of the county’s 43 libraries led to a change of policy by council officials in May.
Under the plan, the council promised to provide free buildings, books, access to the council’s computer network and professional support from librarians to all of Oxfordshire’s libraries.
But many would have to recruit volunteers over the next three years to replace paid staff.
Villagers in Benson said Oxfordshire County Council still needed to “answer a lot of questions”.
The Friends of Benson Library (FOBL) group claimed it had concerns over how the library would be staffed and what it needed to do to save money.
A public meeting at Benson Parish Hall about the library’s future attracted 100 people.
FOBL chairman Dave Rushton said: “The hard work starts now. While it is good news our library now seems likely to stay open, the public need to understand this is only if we largely staff it ourselves with volunteers.
“This seems very hard when other libraries, which cost more and are used less, will apparently be fully staffed.”
Under the proposals, a core list of 22 libraries, including seven on the council’s original hit list, would remain fully staffed.
A second group of five libraries would receive “significant levels of staffing”, backed by a small element of volunteers.
But at the remaining 16 libraries, including Benson and Wychwood Library, volunteers would take on an increasing role in running the service from county council staff over the next three years.
People in Grove are being urged to join their library – which, under the plan, would receive “significant staffing” – to show their support for the service.
The chairman of the Friends of Grove Library group, Eoin Garland, said the future of the library could depend on membership and lending figures.
Mr Garland, 37, of Woodhill Drive, Grove, added: “There have been so many changes of mind since December that you cannot just sit back and say everything is all right. You have to keep the pressure up.
“If more people use the library, it just shows it is a valued resource.
“Volunteers have a role in helping and assisting, but they can never and will never fully replace a professional librarian.”
Campaigning residents around the Wychwoods are also fighting plans they claim will force them to find 60 volunteers to help run their library.
They said Wychwood Library, in Milton-under Wychwood, would lose two thirds of its paid, professional staff.
Library supporter Rosie Young said: “We are determined to fight these plans because the library simply won’t survive if it has to rely on such a huge body of volunteers.”
County council spokes-man Gemma Watts said: “The council does not have plans to close any libraries.
“We want to keep all 43 open, some with the use of volunteers to help the council achieve savings to help towards the overall £119m saving it is having to make.”
A consultation on the new plan will last until September 30 and no changes will be implemented until the start of the 2012-13 financial year, next April.