SIX libraries have officially changed the way they run in the face of council cuts.

Six Community Library Partnerships were signed last week, as volunteers and groups stepped forward to take on responsibility of their local library.

Existing library buildings will remain open, with community partners working together with Somerset County Council in the following six communities: Bruton, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Somerton, Watchet and Wiveliscombe from April 1.

A further three Community Library Partnerships in Castle Cary, Porlock and South Petherton are making decisions on whether to sign Community Library Partnerships next week.

Councillor David Hall, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries at Somerset County Council, said: “This week marks a hugely important and welcome milestone for Somerset’s Libraries Service. It’s great news so many Community Library Partnerships were signed and I’d like to thank everyone for all their hard work, dedication and commitment in bringing this about. We look forward to working closely with our partners to deliver libraries services together in these communities going forward.”

A Friends of Somerset Library (FOSL) spokesman said: “Friends of Somerset Libraries has been engaging and challenging Somerset County Council throughout the review of library services. We are pleased to see that six Community Library Partnerships are being announced today. The communities that have stepped up to keep their libraries open are to be congratulated and we are further pleased that most will continue to provide a service with trained staff rather than relying on volunteers.

"FOSL argued for all CLPs to receive some funding from the council and a core service offer to ensure the maintenance of service across the county and this has been achieved. We are sorry to see that two libraries have closed but the remainder are part of the statutory network.”

On November 5 2018, Somerset County Council agreed to retain 19 of its existing libraries and seek help from communities to run 15 other library buildings as Community Library Partnerships. The two library buildings where no expressions of interest to run a Community Library Partnership were received, Highbridge and Sunningdale (Yeovil), closed on December 29 2018. Outreach services are now delivered within these communities.

Each Community Library Partnership has been shaped by community partners and will be managed differently with arrangements tailored to meet the circumstances of individual communities.

Most libraries will continue to be supported by paid library staff. Fully staffed libraries will continue at Watchet and Wiveliscombe while Somerton, South Petherton, and North Petherton libraries will be mostly staff led with some additional volunteer support, which will support extended opening hours in South Petherton. Volunteer led libraries will be operating at Bruton, Castle Cary, Nether Stowey and Porlock.

Work continues to develop Community Library Partnerships for four remaining libraries. These are Bishops Lydeard, Milborne Port, Priorswood and Street. While this work continues, libraries in all of these communities will stay open into April, allowing more time for agreements to be reached.

Cllr Hall added: “We are very pleased with progress on developing Community Library Partnerships in the four remaining communities and are confident that these libraries can be sustained into the future. We hope to update these communities on progress shortly.”

The council also wishes to 'modernise' its library network by installing self-service technology. The new systems are being introduced at the following libraries: Ilminster (February 28), Somerton (March 5), Nether Stowey (March 6), Castle Cary (March 13), Cheddar March 12), Langport (March20) and Martock (March 21). In all cases customers will still be able to ask staff or volunteers for support whenever the library is open.

There will also be revised opening hours in the following libraries from April 1 at Priorswood, Milborne Port, Somerton, South Petherton and Watchet. Opening hours at Martock, Ilminster, Langport and Cheddar libraries will be maintained with the support of parish and town councils and the investment in self-service technology.

Cllr Hall said: “We’d like to recognise it is not only our partners who are stepping up to support our libraries. We are really grateful to everyone who has helped and supported us in continuing to provide a thriving and modern library service at the heart of our communities.”