Explore - formerly the City of York Library and Archives - was one of the first in the country to spin out into a public service mutual organisation. One third is owned by staff and two thirds by its community members. As a public service independent of the council, Explore has a clear voice and purpose and is able to generate greater involvement of local people in all aspects of the service, encouraging flexibility, innovation and partnership building with the community. In addition to keeping all their libraries open the ambition is to use libraries as community hubs, such as a health & wellbeing centre in partnership with local GP practices.
Explore is also working alongside Be Independent, York’s adult social care public service mutual to help 3,500 elderly housebound residents to become more digitally active. Tablets and face-to-face training have been provided so that these residents can access the internet through portable WiFi devices. These are being used for activities such as talking via Skype to family and friends, online banking, food shopping and choosing library books. The hope is that this will support digital inclusion of the elderly within York, take library services directly to the housebound, and, more broadly, help residents to win back some independence.