A CHARITY could be set up to run York’s libraries and help meet a £250,000 savings target.

City of York Council today launched a six-week consultation asking for residents’ views on the city’s library service, including where they should be based, what they should provide and whether people can volunteer to help operate them.

The authority – which must cut its libraries budget by ten per cent next year – has also suggested a “community benefit society” could be formed to manage libraries on its behalf.

It would be council-funded but, if set up as a charity, would be eligible for tax breaks and other grants and financial support, in a similar vein to York Museums Trust.

Officers will recommend whether this approach should be pursued when they present a report on the consultation to the council’s cabinet before the end of the year. The authority has pledged none of the city’s 14 libraries or its mobile service will close, and savings will not mean compulsory job losses, reduced opening hours or less stock.

Fiona Williams, head of libraries and archives, said: “We want to maintain the quality of the service we have, and improve it if possible.

“By finding out what people want from libraries, we can ensure we make the right decisions about their future. We also want to encourage more volunteers to add value and help with things like events, storytimes and IT questions, so staff can spend more time on reference queries, choosing books and children’s reading. But volunteers will not replace staff – if you do that, a library becomes simply a room full of books.

“I think the only way you get through difficult times is being enterprising and creative, and I believe our destiny is in our hands and we can secure a bright future for our libraries.”

As well as seeking new funding sources, the council is also looking at cutting its supplies and services bill for libraries, boosting income – including through increased room-hire levels and possibly more library cafés – and sending out more overdue-book reminders electronically rather than by post.

Coun Sonja Crisp said the council wanted libraries to reach their “maximum potential”.

She said: “To deliver the broadest and best library services, we believe we need to transform the way we deliver them and give people more choice and control over them.”

The consultation runs until November 5 and copies can be collected from and returned to libraries and the council’s Library Square, St Leonard’s Place and Guildhall offices.

They can also be completed and submitted at york.gov.uk and residents with queries can e-mail fiona.williams@york.gov.uk or sarah.garbacz@york.gov.uk, phone 01904 553316 or 552608, or visit any library.