'Smallest' library saved from closure

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Andrew Mourant reports on the volunteers who fought off council cost-cutting to rescue a village treasure 'built over a ginnel no wider than a cart track'

Volunteers led by a former college lecturer have saved what is thought to be Britain's smallest public library from closure.

Squeezed between a row of terraced houses and a pub, the tiny library serves Ainsworth, a moorland village between Bolton and Bury.

Its 2,000 books are available for borrowing just seven hours a week - on Monday and Friday afternoons.

"You fill it up if you stand three people shoulder to shoulder," said Ian Hopkins, who is co-ordinating the volunteers. "But it's well-used, most popular with the elderly and primary schoolchildren. We issue 50 to 100 books a session."

Borrowings are up as the library enjoys a new lease of life under its management team of 12. Mr Hopkins is a former history teacher at South Bolton sixth-form college. Others on the rota include his wife, Carol, a part-time college lecturer, and Ann Moss, former deputy director of music for Bury schools.

Four small libraries run by Bury council faced the axe as the cultural services department tried to cut costs. What saved Ainsworth, was a determined effort by the community association, and the fact that Whitbread brewery, not the council, owned the building.

"The council had already saved the three-year lease. The real problem was finding the insurance but eventually we resolved that," said Mr Hopkins. "I suppose I was the primary mover in trying to keep the library open - I've been an academic all my life and felt very strongly about it."

Pupils of Christ Church C of E primary school joined the campaign. Several classes, particularly the younger ones, wrote letters to the council. "It seemed far better coming from them than from me," said David Gerard, the headteacher.

"The library is well used by the children and has a lot of character. It was built over a ginnel (alley) no wider than a cart track. It's a cute, quaint building, like a little folly."

Besides the former teachers, volunteers include Jenny Matthews, a librarian at Salford University. Although Ainsworth is no longer funded by Bury council, it liaises with the municipal library at Radcliffe. Radcliffe supplies its stock of books which is renewed every six months.

The new arrangement at Ainsworth will save Bury about Pounds 2,000 a year, though the council remains responsible for maintaining the building. "Things seem to be going reasonably well, although it's early days," said cultural services manager John Carter.

"Undoubtedly, the library would have been a significant loss to the community. The other libraries we closed were in more urban areas and stayed open longer - 17 hours a week. There were protests though no community association volunteer effort such as in Ainsworth."

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