Explore chief executive Jenny Layfield celebrates the organisation's first 10 years - but says York's libraries need your support

With information just a click away and books readily available to buy, the question often arises: are public libraries still relevant?

For me, as Chief Executive of Explore Libraries and Archives, you won’t be surprised to hear that the answer is a resounding yes!

Since taking the helm in January 2023, I have witnessed the profound impact of public libraries and archives in York, the variety of things they offer and their essential role in the community. If you haven’t been in for a while you might be surprised by what you find.

Public libraries are not a luxury but a statutory service, governed by The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

This act mandates the provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service for all, ensuring libraries are free, well-stocked, and staffed adequately. Archives are also a statutory service - mandated by The Public Records Act – which safeguard the collective memory of the city.

Libraries are not mere rooms full of books; they are dynamic spaces that cater to diverse needs.

A 2023 report from the University of East Anglia estimated that a branch library typically provides £1 million in value annually.

I’ve heard from so many staff how their library has turned lives around.

Regular activities, from story times for babies to reminiscence sessions for people with dementia, provide vital opportunities.

Libraries are there especially at those times in people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable. I am proud that Explore offers so many welcoming, safe havens fostering a sense of community in an increasingly polarised society.

York Press: An Explore York craft groupAn Explore York craft group (Image: Explore York Libraries and Archives)

Our unique reach into local communities has been recognised by Arts Council England who added Explore to their National Portfolio in April last year.

I’ve witnessed a child wonderstruck as he experienced opera for the first time at a touring production in Acomb Library and adults moved to tears by watching a drama about bereavement - Operation Hummingbird - in an intimate library setting.

Our NPO programme over the next three years is so exciting and will bring people of all ages to interact with our Archives, engaging with the history of the city in bold and creative new ways.

Successful organisations, like Explore, are those that listen, respond, and adapt. Our libraries are shaped by our communities, and we ensure our continuing relevance by responding to changing needs and wishes. This commitment to collaboration, democracy, and community-based initiatives is central to Explore's vision.

Ten years ago, Explore emerged as an independent organisation, separate from the City of York Council, with a goal of strengthening the library and archive services so valued by the community.

Explore is a charitable community benefit society and this means local people and communities are central to our purpose. Anyone over 16 can join Explore as a community member and have chance to shape Explore’s future.


A Call for Support as Explore celebrates its 10th Birthday

As Explore prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday in 2024, I want to reach out to the community for support. I am inviting people in York who love our libraries and archives to get more involved this year. There are lots of ways.

You could show your support by becoming a community member - you will get regular updates from Explore and the chance to influence key decisions.

Or you might share your skills. Volunteers contributed nearly 19,000 hours last year (equivalent to £250,000 of staff time) and play a crucial role in supporting us to do more.

Or you could consider joining our board. We will be recruiting for three new directors in 2024 and we are keen to bring in people with different backgrounds and experience.

Most urgent is our need for money. As Explore seeks to become more resilient and sustainable, significant financial support from individuals, businesses and other funders is crucial.

We need more business partners to offer sponsorship, especially for children's activities. Every child in York deserves the opportunity to enjoy high quality experiences and the enhanced life chances they bring. Collective effort will help ensure the continued success of Explore's libraries and archives in York.

I am asking our community to join hands, ensuring that Explore not only survives but thrives in the years to come.

As we celebrate our first decade, we are asking more people than ever before to support our vision of a future where libraries and archives in York remain vibrant, community shaped, and most important, open for all.

You can read Explore's annual review at exploreyork.org.uk/annual-review/