CAMPAIGNERS from 16 of Oxfordshire’s 20 threatened libraries have said they will not apply for cash to run the branches themselves.
Library groups have formed a new county-wide alliance, Save Oxfordshire Libraries, which has written to County Hall saying they do not want Big Society money to run a “do-it-yourself service”.
Oxfordshire County Council has voted to cut £2m from the library service’s annual budget over four years. It wants to stop funding 20 branches across Oxfordshire, but has set aside £600,000 to help volunteers run their own community libraries.
However, campaigners at all of Oxford’s threatened libraries — Blackbird Leys, Botley, Headington, Littlemore, Old Marston, and Summertown — have said they will not apply for the cash.
They have been joined by groups in Adderbury, Bampton, Berinsfield, Charlbury, Deddington, Kennington, North Leigh, Sonning Common, Stonesfield, and Woodcote.
Library campaigners in Chinnor were meeting to decide their response, and there is no campaign to save the branch in Neithrop, Banbury.
According to Save Oxfordshire Libraries, only in Benson and Grove are volunteers considering applying for the cash.
According to the county council, community groups would be left to meet running costs of up to £200,000-a-year. And, in a letter to the council, the new alliance said any attempts to set up volunteer groups to run libraries would “be unlikely to succeed”.
Chairman Judith Wardle said: “Financially and logistically it is impractical. Communities are already doing what is now called ‘Big Society’.
“There is not enormous capacity for people to volunteer more than they do already, and there aren’t extra librarians in the community offering to run a library for nothing.”
The county council said three groups had so far inquired about applying for the ‘Big Society” cash. Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “As far as we can tell from Dr Wardle’s letter, there is no firm decision from any of these library representatives not to apply for Big Society start-up money and we would encourage them to keep an open mind on the issue.”
He added: “The Big Society Fund is available for bids and will remain open for quite some time.” He said the council had “an open mind” about alternative options and no decision would be taken until the summer. A public consultation will begin in April.
Dr Wardle, of North Leigh, said running a library service with another county council should be looked at, but said the new group would not draw up alternative business plans.
And she dismissed the offer of American outsourcing firm Library Systems and Services (LSSI), which believes it can save branches by running the county’s libraries more efficiently. She said: “If it is not affordable when nobody tried to make a profit, how can it be when someone is?”