VOLUNTEERS are gearing up to take over seven libraries in Dorset.
County council funding cuts left the libraries facing closure but, after months of negotiation, Dorset County Council and local community groups have finalised arrangements for the handover.
The roll-out is set to start on Monday with Puddletown leading the way. Stalbridge Library will be handed over on Tuesday 12th February.
Libraries in Wool, Colehill, Charmouth, Burton Bradstock and Chickerell are also being handed over to community control.
After the transfer, the libraries will be independent and self-governed, but supported with books, staffing and IT services from Dorset County Council in a deal worth £5,500 for each library each year.
Library users will still use the same library card both at the community libraries and council-run libraries, and they can continue to access e-books and on-line reference resources via www.dorsetforyou.com/libraries
Reading groups and Home Library Service will also continue as part of the council's services.
There may be changes to the opening hours at some of the community run libraries as the volunteers plan to extend opening hours or change opening times to better meet local needs.
Councillor Hilary Cox, county council cabinet member for community services, said: "I am very pleased that by working together in partnership and through careful listening and constructive negotiation, we have now finalised dates for local communities to take over the responsibility for running seven libraries with support from Dorset County Council.
"The county council appreciates the local leadership and hard work that has been done. This innovative approach is good for local communities, while helping us to manage our reduced budget, which we have to do. I would like to thank all the volunteers for coming forward."
Graham Lee, Chairman of Ad Lib (Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries) said: "Sixteen months ago, eight community libraries located throughout the county were faced with the stark choice of being closed through the lack of funding or managing the libraries themselves.
"The response of the community which are volunteers to this challenge has been remarkable. We are at last near the end of the negotiations designed not only to give the libraries a sound start but also a secure future.
"The efforts made by the county council towards achieving this are much appreciated. The communities involved look forward to a long-term working relationship with the Library Service that ensures that the commitment of their volunteers remains well rewarded."
The transfer of the community libraries will contribute towards the £725,000 savings required from the county council's library service budget.