Frequently asked questions

What do you mean by community involvement?

During the public consultation on the future direction of the library service earlier this year, many individuals and communities indicated that they would be willing to get much more actively involved in their local library. They were also clear that paid staff were very important in ensuring the quality and sustainability of local libraries.

As a result, we would now like to try out different ways that communities can get more involved, which could help reduce costs of libraries, generate increased use and encourage communities to have a greater stake in their local library.
Some communities suggested the following ideas during the consultation:

  • Moving the library to an alternative community location to enable it to be open for longer and/or reduce the building’s running costs
  • Using volunteers to extend core library opening hours
  • Using under-utilised space in the library, or using the library out of core opening hours to generate additional income and increase community use of the building
  • Incorporating other services or facilities into the existing library in order to reduce the overall running costs
  • Establishing a Friends’ Group that fundraises and supports its library.

We are open to all ideas from communities about how to increase the community’s sense of ownership of their library. Community pilots will test out the different ideas that many communities have developed over the past few months.

What are the community pilots?

We will be looking for up to 10 communities to work with the us for the next 12 months as pilots. We want to work in partnership with local communities to enable them to get much more involved and influence and contribute towards their local library. The criteria and scope for the pilots are in the process of being finalised. We are particularly interested in developing community pilots that:

  • Develop bold and innovative approaches towards reducing the costs of libraries without impacting on library staff or opening hours
  • Involve local communities more actively in their local library
  • Increase use of the library
  • Provide a range of local solutions to working with the library service that could be replicated in other communities.

We anticipate that there will be a good spread of pilots across the county and that a variety of different and innovative approaches will be used. The pilots may also help the us shape the new organisation for the whole county.

How can my community be considered as a pilot?

Your community will be considered for selection as a pilot if you complete the application form.

What are the timescales on the community pilots?

The application form to take part in the pilot is now available.

Completed applications must be returned by Monday 1 December 2014.

The proposals will be assessed and the community pilots evaluated according to a number of factors.

A selection panel will assess the applications week beginning 1 December and we will let applicants know the result on or before Monday 8 December.

There is a half day information event for all the successful applicants on Thursday 11 December at Exeter Library, when work will begin.

The pilots will run for 12 months.

Who can apply to be a community pilot?

Any community which has a static library can apply to be a community pilot. We want to develop and test a variety of models and would encourage applications involving both small and larger libraries.

We welcome applications from any group, organisation or business that has an idea that contributes to the sustainability of local libraries. This could be a Friends Group, a town or parish council, a local business, a social enterprise, a community group or voluntary sector organisation.

How will the County Council support the community pilots?

Our officers will work alongside the pilot communities to help them develop the pilots. We will also signpost the pilot communities to independent support and advice. Modest capital investment may be available to support the community pilots as appropriate.

Will the community pilots have to take part in further consultation with their communities?

Not necessarily. It will be important that you are able to show widespread support for your idea but this won’t necessarily mean more consultation. We want to ensure the whole community has an opportunity to be involved in shaping how their library is delivered in their community and we will be able to advise and support you on this. We particularly want children and young people to be involved in the development of the pilots because they are a significant and growing proporation of our users. The public consultation also highlighted that people of all ages recognise the value of the library service for children and young people.

What does a Friends’ Group do?

Currently, groups are involved in fundraising for their local library – for example towards equipment and resources, events and activities.

Friends’ also provide practical support – for example by helping to host events and meeting and greeting visitors.

Friends’ Groups can make sure that local views are accurately reflected to decision-makers and help to raise the profile of their local library and increase awareness of local needs.

Does my library have a Friends’ Group? How can I join?

There are a growing number of Friends’ Groups across the county. If you would like to join a Friends’ Group, please email librarystrategyfeedback-mailbox@devon.gov.uk and state which library you are interested in supporting. We will email you back to let you know if your library has a Friends Group and, if so, send you the relevant contact information.

How do I set up a Friends’ Group?

If you are interested in setting up a Friends’ Group for a library which does not have one currently, please email librarystrategyfeedback-mailbox@devon.gov.uk and one of the libraries team will contact you. There is a Friends’ Group protocol available at Friends of Devon Libraries. Please note this is being updated.

What will happen if communities don’t come forward?

We have already had considerable interest from a number of different communities and are confident that we will have a wide range of pilots.

What will happen to my library if it is not selected as a community pilot?

The level of service and staff in your library is not likely to change over the next 12 months. As we learn what works from the community pilots, we expect that we will look to increase the number of communities that we are working with. If you have ideas for your library and your library is not the focus of a community pilot, we are still keen to talk to you about your ideas. Please email librarystrategyfeedback-mailbox@devon.gov.uk and a member of the libraries team will be in touch for an initial discussion.

How can I help the library service?

We welcome the interest, support and involvement of individuals, organisations and communities in the library service. We recognise that the library service can only benefit from working with a broader range of people who want libraries to have an even greater impact in their communities in the future. If you have ideas or would like to talk to library managers about your ideas, please email librarystrategyfeedback-mailbox@devon.gov.uk or speak to your local library supervisor.

How are library staff affected by the plans for the service?

There are no immediate plans to make changes to staff working in libraries. The public told us that library staff are very important to the quality and sustainability of local libraries. We now need to do detailed financial work to establish whether an alternative delivery model, such as a trust or mutual, could provide a cost-effective mechanism for the future delivery and management of the whole library service. As and when plans for a new organisation take shape, we will undertake full and formal staff and trade union consultation.

How would the terms and conditions of staff be protected if a new organisation is set up?

The rights of existing staff in relation to protecting their current terms and conditions, including pensions, are protected through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) legislation – also known as TUPE.

How do you plan to make the necessary savings?

The library service needs to reduce its overall budget by £1.5 million by the end of 2016/17, as part of the Council’s overall need to reduce its budget by £110 million. £200,000 has been saved in 2014/15 by the rationalisation of the mobile service.
In 2015/16, we expect to find the necessary savings of £400,000 from a combination of:

  • Not filling non-frontline management vacancies
  • Anticipated reductions in the running costs of Barnstaple Library
  • Generating increased income from Exeter Library
  • Identifying savings with the community pilots.

A full business case will be prepared by the end of 2014, identifying how the further £900,000 savings will be made in 2016/17 and indicating the potential to save money from a new organisation, such as a trust or mutual. The initial financial benefit would be savings on business rates of at least £400,000. In addition, a new operating model based on a charitable entity would be able to access funding and income, which the library service currently cannot access.

What are the plans for the mobile library service?

You told us in the consultation that providing a service to people in deep rural areas was important, so we want to consider the impact of the changes we made to this service in January 2014 before any further changes are made. Therefore, there will be no changes to the mobile library service at this time.

What is a mutual?

A mutual is an organisation which is owned and run by a defined group of members, such as employees, service users, customers or others with an interest in the business. Examples include the John Lewis Partnership, which is owned by its staff, and the Nationwide Building Society which is owned by its customers. The members lead the organisation by voting for the members of the board of directors/trustees and, depending on the structure, can also stand for election on the board. It is therefore a model that can enable much greater involvement from and accountability to those who benefit from the service. Any income generated would be used for the benefit of the organisation and its members and, as such, a mutual can also be a social enterprise and/or a charity.

What is a community-led mutual?

This would be a mutual whose members were drawn from the community. For example, in Suffolk, the library service is a mutual owned and run by members of the library Friends’ Groups. Their board of trustees is made up entirely of members of the community, nominated and voted for by the 44 Friends’ Groups (one for each of the 44 libraries).

What is a staff-led mutual?

This is a mutual whose members are the staff. For example, in York, the library service is a mutual owned and run by the staff, for the benefit of the community. It is known as a Community Benefit Society. This means each member of staff has a vote to elect people onto the board of trustees and members of the community are also able to become members if they wish.

What is a trust?

The term ‘trust’ is generally used to refer to an organisation that has charitable status. It can also be called a charitable trust. The library service of the London Borough of Redbridge is run by a charitable trust and the South West Heritage Service is currently being set up with this model (a partnership between Devon County Council and Somerset Council).

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business which exists to deliver a social purpose. It reinvests its profits to further its social mission (rather than, for example, making payments to shareholders).

What are the benefits of being a charity?

Having charitable status brings certain financial benefits to the organisation – for example, a reduction in business rates and eligibility to apply for grants from a wider range of funding bodies. In addition, the organisation is able to accept donations and can claim Gift Aid.

How would an external organisation be held to account? What would be the relationship between the council and the external organisation? What do councillors do?

The statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Public Libraries Act would continue to rest with Devon County Council. Therefore, we have a particular interest in ensuring the accountability of any new organisation. This would most likely be managed through a contract arrangement, the Council paying the new organisation through a funding agreement and being able to monitor performance against the terms of the contract. In addition, the organisation would be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Companies House and/or the Charity Commission.