First staff-led mutual library receives £100,000 backing

share this page
Minister for Cabinet Office Francis Maude

On 29th January Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, visited library staff in York’s Explore Centre who are set to become part of the first library and archive service mutual in the country. During the visit, the Minister announced that the Cabinet Office Mutuals Support Programme will provide up to £100,000 of business planning and legal advice for the ground breaking project.

City of York Council runs fifteen libraries and a historic archive service, including the flagship Explore Centre, in the heart of the city. These employ nearly one hundred people who, under the plans, will form a new social enterprise to give the staff greater scope to work with the local community and more say in how services are delivered. The service will continue to receive funding from the council but will also have the flexibility to earn income, such as through the existing successful cafes or by creating new services. The mutual business model also allows for companies to bid to take over other services in other parts of the country.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude said:

“Libraries are treasured local services. Running them as mutuals could raise service quality and make them financially sustainable in the long-term. People who work in libraries and local public archives are the real experts, they know what local people want and how best to deliver it. The mutual model puts power in their hands.

“City of York Council’s support for this project is great news for local people. Together with the library service employees, they are pioneering a new way of delivering library and archive services which will be a model for others to follow. And I’m very pleased to pledge substantial backing from the Cabinet Office Mutuals Support Programme, which will help get this project off the ground.”

City of York Council’s Councillor James Alexander, Leader of City of York Council said:

“We have seen library closures happening across the country, including in many local council areas, and want to avoid this happening in York so a mutual approach is a sensible option worth exploring. This £100,000 from the Cabinet Office will let us support the service in any transition to a new method of delivery and is a great endorsement of the approach we are investigating to protect our library service for York residents. Our plans are for a professionally-led service, supported by the community, for the community it serves.”

York’s plans are at an early stage of development but will potentially set the blueprint for a new wave of library and archive mutuals and has been received with interest by key players in the sector.  

Janene Cox, President of the Society of Chief Librarians said:

‘The York Mutual is providing an interesting model for the management and delivery of Public Library Services. It is extremely positive to see that it retains the support of York City Council and also that it recognises the value of the role of both the Librarians and the Archivists who currently work within the service. Within SCL we will be keen to monitor the progress of this new operating model.’

Oliver Morley, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives said:

“Trusts and other mutual governance structures are an important and valuable option to consider when designing sustainable archives and records services.”

Read the City of York Cabinet Paper on "A Community Benefit Society for Libraries and Archives" for more information.