THE Friends of Bentham Library are preparing for a new chapter as they seek more volunteers, funds and a new home to secure its future.

The much-loved 'heart of the community' is staffed by professional librarians for ten hours per week, and by volunteers for six-and-a-half, to cover the hours lost when opening times were reduced by North Yorkshire County Council.

From 2017 the High Bentham library will be completely managed by the community, and the Friends of Bentham Library (FOBL) are actively looking for more help and a new venue that costs less to run, so they can keep the library open.

"We've got 22 volunteers," said Craven district councillor Linda Brockbank, who chairs FOBL.

"It's very good but, like all these things, these people are busy doing other things as well as helping out in the community, so it's a case of the more volunteers we have, the longer we will be open."

Cllr Brockbank said that although the old Victorian school house on Main Street made a 'perfect' library, it did not lend itself to being hired out to raise extra income. North Yorkshire County Council is looking at three potential new venues, and FOBL is keen to explore the idea of sharing a building with another community group, to save costs.

The library has 400 members, said Cllr Brockbank, and hosts a popular reading group, computer club and storytime for toddlers. "Libraries these days aren't just about borrowing books. They are about giving people, especially in rural areas, access to the internet and to computers," she told the Gazette.

"We are trying to combat rural isolation. To us, the Friends of Bentham Library, and to Bentham, it's the heart of the community. It's about people coming to the library, and they might not see anybody all day, but they can come to the library and they don't even have to choose a book."

Bentham Town Council pledged to support the library financially at its recent meeting, and Cllr Brockbank said the council already made a valued contribution by paying FOBL's liability insurance.

Anybody who would like to help staff the library or make a donation is invited to visit the library on Mondays 4.30-7pm or Wednesdays 1-4pm, when the volunteers are on duty.