What Libraries Unlimited aims to achieve in Devon

Janet Fisher, a board member of Libraries Unlimited, tells us what are the aims of the new public mutual commissioned to run Devon County Council's Library Service of 50 libraries and four mobile libraries.

Janet writes: 'In her speech at the launch of Libraries Unlimited on 23rd April CEO Ciara Eastell's call was for each of the audience to go out and tell five people a month about what libraries could do for them. It was a message we all need to hear, and just the statement that this new organisation needs to act upon.

Libraries Unlimited is the new public mutual, (and hopefully soon to be charity), which is now running Devon Library Service. This is a big undertaking as Devon has 50 libraries spread across the mainly rural county, but the launch on 23rd April was a joyous occasion which took place in two venues, Barnstaple Library in the north of the county in the morning, and Exeter Library, newly refurbished, home to the Fab Lab, Business and IP Centre, and a lovely children's library complete with buggy park in the afternoon!

Michael Morpurgo was the guest of honour at Exeter Library and made an impassioned speech about the importance of libraries, as important as the NHS, to the health of the nation. Local author Claire Barker made an emotional speech at the Barnstaple launch about the importance of libraries to her when a child Both authors cut huge cakes in the form of a book - what else? - and the invited guests enjoyed a slice with a cup of tea on a lovely spring day.

It has been a huge undertaking, moving at arm's length from the County Council, who have been very supportive of this venture; things like pensions, property and all the financial implications of going it alone, plus the importance of keeping the staff abreast and comfortable with all the changes that this entails.

Ciara and her management team have worked incredibly hard to get this off the ground and in January, a Board of Trustees was appointed to oversee Libraries Unlimited, chaired by Julie Dent. (I have a vested interest in this as I am one of the Board members!)

There is a contract from Devon County Council to run the library service for the next five years and while obviously having to look at additional forms of funding, libraries need to run as before while building on the solid base to improve and expand. There will also be the freedom to form partnerships and be entrepreneurial in the local and wider communities.

As a mutual, the organisation is owned by its staff and the network of library Friends Groups across the county. The Board is formed of people from the local communities, staff members and has a wide range of experience, age and skills.

The Mission statement makes it quite clear what will guide this new organisation : "Libraries Unlimited believes in the unlimited potential of library services to make a positive difference to people's lives and communities through a shared love of reading and access to high quality information and facilities."

With the 'doom and gloom' about the future of libraries being bandied about, it is encouraging that in Devon there is faith and vision to start a new organisation to bring libraries into the 21st century.'

Janet Fisher
Board Member of Libraries Unlimited.

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23/05/2016What Libraries Unlimited aims to achieve in Devon
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