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Struggle to appoint library co-ordinator
A LIBRARY co-ordinator has not been appointed after six months despite Oxfordshire County Council describing the role as “central” to its reforms.
The council is in the process of implementing its controversial library strategy, which will mean volunteers taking on a bigger role in order to save money.
Only half of Oxfordshire’s libraries will be fully staffed by council employees, with the others run by a mixture of volunteers and council staff.
A co-ordinator is due to be employed – with a starting salary of £34,549 a year – to work with Friends groups which will help provide the volunteers.
But despite the post being advertised in April, only two interviews have been carried out and no-one has been appointed. Julia Drown, of Save Old Marston Library, said: “The fact that they are struggling to appoint a co-ordinator must be an indication of the difficulty the council is having in delivering its plans. The job of co-ordinating volunteers in one Friends group is massive.”
A meeting, to update county councillors on the policy’s implementation, heard there were problems with staff morale in the library service.
Nina Sutton, manager of Berinsfield Library and a Unison union shop steward, said: “It’s a difficult one, because there are lots of changes going on.
“In a way it’s out of our hands now and people are more upbeat than they were, but there’s still some uncertainty about some jobs.”
Originally the council said it planned to withdraw funding from 20 of Oxfordshire’s 43 libraries as part of its programme of cuts.
This would have meant libraries in Headington, Blackbird Leys, Charlbury and Kennington could have closed. The proposals sparked widespread protests .
After a bitter battle the plan was eventually dropped and the council decided to use volunteers at 21 libraries instead.
The council employs 334 people in the library service, but a spokesman said it was not possible to determine how many people would be employed in the service once the reforms were completely implemented.
He said: “The community libraries co-ordinator is a very important role and we’re going through the process of finding the right candidate.
“The role is central to the future of the county’s libraries and is not something we need to rush.”
Judith Heathcoat, the council’s cabinet member for safer and stronger communities, claimed staff morale was “good”, despite the concerns raised.
She said: “The fact is that we would not have been able to achieve so much in the library service in the last year without the hard work and commitment of the staff.
“Although the service has been through a challenging period, the staff have remained positive about doing what needs to be done to develop a sustainable future for libraries.”
The move towards volunteer staff is one of a series of measures that the council expects will save £1m over a three-year period.
If it goes ahead as planned, it is estimated the changes will save £313,000 in 2015-16.
A restructure of management will contribute towards a further £273,000 saving while introducing self-service equipment in libraries will save another £256,000. The council insisted the delay in appointing the co-ordinator position would not affect the overall savings plan.