MASSIVE funding cuts are seeing several libraries across Craven exploring the possibility of becoming community-run facilities.

Julie Blaisdale, North Yorkshire County Council's assistant director of library, customer and community services, said the county council had to make a savings of £1.4 million in its library budget by April 2017, cutting spending from £5.8 million to £4.4 million.

As a result, four libraries in Craven are set to be run solely by volunteers following in the footsteps of Grassington, Gargrave and Embsay, which have been up and running since 2011.

"We're now out talking with groups in Settle, Cross Hills, Ingleton and Bentham to find out how they will run their libraries," she said. "By doing this now, we're giving people more time to get them up and running by April 2017.

"The county council is still going to put a lot of infrastructure in. We'll continue to pay for books, the reservation service and van delivery, as well network and broadband access for the public PCs.

Mrs Blaisdale said that, in order to save money, the council would start by removing paid staff in libraries and, instead, rely largely on the support of volunteers.

"We're working locality by locality to build up management groups," she said. "Our view is that in the majority of cases we'll be handing over a building in a good state of repair. We're negotiating with groups and giving them some help to get buildings repaired. We're not handing over buildings that are falling apart."

Settle Library, which opened in new, spacious premises at Limestone View, Lower Greenfoot, in January 2015, is well on its way to staying open past March 2017.

The county council will maintain books, IT and infrastructure and provide five to seven hours of staffing each week at Settle to train and support volunteers.

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: “Settle will become a community library from April 2017 and will need a committee to manage the library premises and finances as well as volunteers to run library services on a day-to-day basis.

"Handover is not due to happen until April 2017 but in the meantime we need groups to form to take on the governance and to plan for the future."

For Cross Hills Library, which was extended in 2010, Glusburn and Cross Hills Parish Council has come forward to help ease the transition into becoming a volunteer-run library.

Cllr Patrick Hargreaves, vice chairman of Glusburn and Cross Hills Parish Council, said: "We're not volunteering to take it on or be on the management committee, but we're looking at setting up some sort of charitable organisation to run it."

He said so far about a half a dozen volunteers had come forward, and the parish council had come up with a possible plan to see if parish councils across South Craven would make a donation towards running costs.

"It probably ought to be called South Craven Library because its serves all the villages in the area," said Cllr Hargreaves. "It's an award-winning library, so we'd be prepared to pay a donation to keep it."

Cowling Parish Council has been asked if it would consider paying £1,680 and Sutton-in-Craven Parish Council has been asked to donate £2,160. Both have yet to make a decision.

"We do feel that North Yorkshire County Council has a duty to provide this service," said Cllr Steve Morrell, chairman of Sutton-in-Craven Parish Council. "They're facing financial cutbacks, but staffing the library with volunteers could reduce the provision.

"I'd like to see a stronger commitment from North Yorkshire and stronger support of the library in the the local area."

South Craven county Cllr Philip Barrett said: "Although located in Cross Hills, it's important to stress that this valuable facility is very much South Craven's library and resource centre and serves many of the surrounding parishes and also several local primary schools use it on a regular basis.

"I'm pleased that a number of volunteers have come forward and that Glusburn and Cross Hills Parish Council are also actively involved in assisting the process. However more volunteers will be needed if it is to succeed."

At Skipton Library, Mrs Blaisdale said 60 per cent of the opening hours would involve having a paid staff member in place, but more volunteers were needed to cover the rest.

"At Bentham, we'll be looking at a range of options," she said. "There is a Friends of Bentham Library group and we'll look at joining forces with other partner agencies."

Craven district councillor Linda Brockbank, who chairs the Friends, said: "Libraries these days aren't just about borrowing books. They are about giving people, especially in rural areas, access to the internet and to computers.

"We are trying to combat rural isolation. To us, the Friends of Bentham Library, and to Bentham, it's the heart of the community. It's about people coming to the library, and they might not see anybody all day, but they can come to the library and they don't even have to choose a book."

Cllr Brockbank said that although the old Victorian school house on Main Street made a 'perfect' library, it did not lend itself to being hired out to raise extra income. North Yorkshire County Council is looking at three potential new venues, and FOBL is keen to explore the idea of sharing a building with another community group, to save costs.

Bentham Town Council has pledged to support the library financially and Cllr Brockbank said the council already made a valued contribution by paying FOBL's liability insurance.

Ingleton is another Craven library that could become community run, and Mrs Blaisdale said it was likely volunteers would run it from the community centre.

"There is no one size fits all for each community, but we'll make sure they all get support," said Mrs Blaisdale. "The bottom line is we don't want to close our libraries, but we need some help."