Exclusive: ‘Tragedy’ as Yorkshire councils slam the book shut on libraries

Library services are being slashed across the region

Library services are being slashed across the region

  • Up to 83% of library services now rely on volunteers
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Library spending has been slashed by more than a fifth in the last five years, The Yorkshire Post can reveal, with 80 per cent of services in some parts of the region now being run by volunteers.

The figures, uncovered through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, show that cash sums spent on library services in the region have fallen by nearly £7m since 2011.

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

This has left some towns and cities heavily reliant on the efforts of its community, the Post investigation has found, with 83 per cent of Doncaster’s libraries now run by volunteers with the help of the council.

“This is a tragedy,” said Dr Lauren Smith, of the national Voices for the Library campaign. “There’s a real feeling of hopelessness. It’s absolutely not alright.

How volunteers are writing what could be the final chapter for Yorkshire’s libraries

“Libraries are not just about book provision. They help with improving life skills, access to information, lots and lots of support.

“The people most affected by the loss of libraries are those on the fringes of society and the most marginalised. They are not able to shout the loudest.”

Areas with an elder population base and with greater access to education also have better access to community library provision, she said, as there are more people willing to volunteer.

“There’s a huge disparity in access to services in local authorities,” she added. “And the areas that are losing most are the ones most in need.”

The Post investigation is based on local authority responses to questions over library numbers, community led operations, and expenditure.

Of the authorities which responded, all admitted that funding had been cut, with a wide variance across the country.

In East Lincolnshire, expenditure had dropped 42 per cent since 2011, with the authority saying this was because the number of libraries run by the trust it funds has dropped from 10 to four.

In Calderdale expenditure is down 31 per cent; in North Yorkshire 25 per cent, and in East Riding it has fallen just one per cent - with not a single library closing in the last five years.

The biggest number of libraries closed was in Leeds where 19 have shut, while Wakefield has lost 14.

Across the county, 50 libraries have either closed or been converted to community-led, 10 mobile libraries have been lost, and one home-service has opened.

And one of the biggest changes has been in the reliance on communities to run their library services, with 38 libraries now run by volunteers.

In Doncaster, which has cut its expenditure by seven per cent from £4,025,590 to £3,746,950, a total of 20 out of its 24 libraries are now run by volunteers with the support of the library service.

Cllr Bill Mordue, cabinet member for business, skills, tourism and culture on Doncaster Council, said: “We have worked very hard, along with the community, over the past few years to ensure that as many of our libraries remain open as possible. We currently have 21 community libraries and 4 council run libraries open across the borough. The community libraries are run by dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. This is the best of all the Local Authorities in Yorkshire.

“We also provide each of the libraries with their stock, the current IT systems and training on an on-going basis. If one of the libraries has an issue that they would like to discuss then they know they can contact their library supervisor and receive the support and training they need.”

Leeds City Council said 13 libraries out of 53 closed in 2011 as part of a “reconfiguration of the service”, following a “new chapter” review and a public consultation.

Four more libraries were considered for “community ownership”, and three transferred to be run by the public. The fourth closed. Methley Library closed last year due to low usage and Burley Library closed earlier this year.

A council spokesman said: “The library service in Leeds continues to evolve becoming more flexible and modern with innovative new digital and online services being introduced. Library services have also been integrated into transformational community hubs, offering a range of local services together along with increased opening hours and usage as part of our commitment to providing the best possible levels of service across the city.”

How volunteers are writing what could be the final chapter for Yorkshire’s libraries

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