One in 10 Welsh libraries run by volunteers

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One in 10 libraries in Wales is run solely by volunteers in the communities they serve.

Research by BBC Wales found 30 of Wales' 277 libraries are currently run by volunteers, with eight more run in partnership with communities.

An army of 596 volunteers worked 21,761 hours in libraries in 2015-16 - 231 more volunteers than the previous year.

Campaigners warned the library system in the UK was "at crisis point".

Due to a drop in Welsh Government funding during the last few years, local authorities have been looking for ways to save money.

Libraries are one of the services which have faced cuts in many counties, with the number of libraries in Wales falling from 322 to 277 in the past seven years. Of these, just 215 are still run day-to-day by councils.

Now almost a quarter are run either solely by volunteers, or with community support. A further nine libraries have already been earmarked to be run in partnership with the local community this year with assistance from volunteers.

'Not a sustainable answer'

Many of the libraries would have closed were it not for local groups banding together to save them.

But the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Nick Poole, warned that volunteer-led libraries were not a sustainable answer.

"Volunteers are brilliant, they have always been part of the library sector," said Mr Poole. "But they are not a replacement for highly qualified staff.

"People are being asked to pay for library services twice - through their council taxes and then through their time, and you also end up with a postcode lottery.

"There are some places volunteers can give enough time and they are able to provide a service, and other areas where people are not able to provide that time.

"It is quite clearly a short-term measure because of the economic problems facing local government at the moment."

Alan Wylie, from Speak up for Libraries, said: "On one hand you understand that communities have got a gun to their heads because they are being told you either run the library or you close it.

"Libraries are a statutory service and they are supposed to be a comprehensive service, but this flies in the face of that. We are all for volunteers assisting librarians, but not substituting them.

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Media captionVolunteer Sharon Evans is aiming to keep New Quay library open

"We are coming to the crisis point for libraries."

Former dental nurse Sharon Evans, from New Quay, Ceredigion, has voluntarily run the local library for the last two years with a group of 15 volunteers. Members can access the main council's library service as well as order books.

She said: "I had an operation about five years ago, and while I was recovering I would send my husband to pick up books from the library in New Quay for me. Those books were my saviour then, so that was why I got involved in trying to keep the library open."

The costs of accessing Ceredigion's library services are paid for by the local town council, as are overheads like electricity bills, but without this funding the library would be forced to close.

She said: "My husband would say I am in the library every day. I want it to run smoothly, so that is why I'm always there. I am adamant the library will run as long as New Quay Town Council will fund it.

"It is the centre of the community here, and important for everyone, young and old."

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