THE campaign to save Devon’s mobile library service is ramping up ahead of a crucial meeting on its future.
Next week Mid Devon District Council will consider a motion urging it to write to the county council to express the importance of the service.
It has been put forward by Councillor Natalia Letch (Lib Dem, Upper Yeo and Taw), who wants the county council to ensure it has fully investigated all means of securing the future of the four mobile libraries before any decision to axe them.
Devon County Council’s cabinet will be deciding the service’s fate next week.
It said in July that it would cost between £500,000 and £800,000 to replace the four vans, which it claims are nearing the end of their serviceable lives.
And councillors suggested that borrowing had also dropped, also making the service less economically viable.
Alternative services, such as its home library service which sees volunteers deliver books to homes, could help fill the void, the council had suggested.
However, a wave of public outcry, including a 9,000-strong petition supported by several famous authors including Stephen Fry, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Rosen, caused Devon County Council to postpone the decision after it was “called in” for scrutiny by opposition councillors, and the campaign to save the service then received majority cross-party support from the county council’s Scrutiny Committee.
Last week, organisers of the campaign to save the service said that HM Queen Camilla had sent her “good wishes” saying she was “interested to hear of the suggestions to make improvements to these important services, in order to assist those people living in rural areas”.
The campaign has also received support from Sir Lenny Henry and David Walliams, who are both donating their books to the mobile libraries.
Devon County Council Cabinet members had planned to discuss the issue again at the October meeting; however, with more than 25 public questions submitted on the issue, it deferred the matter to the November meeting of the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Committee to allow more time to consider the matters raised.
John Smith, Vice Chair of Coldridge Parish Council, said the mobile library service is vital for his community.
“We are out in the middle of nowhere, with no shop, no public transport, and no pub or post office, and with plenty of elderly people who are without transport,” he said.
“This means they can’t get to the nearest static library that is 12 miles away in Crediton, so the mobile library is a lifeline, including to myself.”
Cllr Smith said other counties with Mobile Library services had made them multi-purpose, with other services provided on board to further help rural communities, for example offering hearing support and a council enquiry service, as well as selling stamps and reading glasses, etc.
He added that applications could be made for grant funding for support from central government and the Rural England Prosperity Fund or Levelling Up Fund and the Arts Council, England, amongst others, and that Council should look at other ways of funding the vans, eg. Vehicle Leasing and/or Corporate Sponsorship, etc.
Campaigners claim that usage is actually rising, and that Devon County Council had been wrongly comparing footfall figures from 2013 – when there were eight mobile libraries – to now, when there are just four.
Angelina Baker said in a written question to the council that Torrington Mobile Library had seen user numbers rise from 858 in January this year to 956 by August.
A Devon County Council spokesperson said its Cabinet would discuss the mobile libraries service at its next meeting on Wednesday, November 8 and it would take into account recommendations from the scrutiny committee tasked with assessing its future viability.