Decision to close 12 libraries shameful say author

WRITER and broadcaster Ian Clayton has branded Wakefield Council’s decision to axe a dozen libraries as “shameful”.

Wakefield Council’s cabinet committee yesterday rubber-stamped proposals to close 12 libraries before March next year unless voluntary organisations step in to take over running the centres.

The council expects to save around £800,000 a year by off-loading the dozen libraries and plans to plough £1m in to improving services at the 14 libraries it continues to run.

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Mr Clayton, who was raised and still lives in Featherstone, said: “I can’t understand a civilised society wanting to do away with libraries. It just seems silly.

“You have got a perfectly good system that allows people to educate themselves and feel part of a bigger cultural community, which is important to Wakefield.

“If you put that to voluntary effort, I can’t see the point. It’s a skilful job is librarianship, people study it. If you leave that to volunteers you take away that know how and knowledge that librarians have.”

He added: “I just think it’s shameful.”

Between 15 and 21 library staff will be affected, with the equivalent of six full-time jobs set to go. Groups wanting to run their own library can apply for a share of £100,000 of council cash to help kick start projects.

Council chiefs say communities are in favour of proposals to modernise library services after the authority carried out extensive consultations via focus groups and surveys.

The authority says just 14.5 per cent of Wakefield residents are regular library users and claim the biggest shake-up for 30 years could mean a better service.

Coun David Dagger, Wakefield Council cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said: “The whole council and its services have to find significant savings from which library services are not exempt. We have to save £95m over the next several years.”

Coun Dagger said the changes would mean an improved mobile and home library service, adding: “This is very much a new beginning for the library service in Wakefield, one that builds on the fundamentals that libraries embody.”

Mr Clayton said after the meeting: “All this nonsense about volunteers coming forward, it is just stupid. Lets have a voluntary council then and have people become voluntary councillors. It just seems ridiculous.”

He added: “If I hadn’t had my local library in Featherstone I wouldn’t have had access to books.

“There were no books in my house when I was growing up. I became a massive fan of Featherstone Library because it allowed me access to things I didn’t have at home. I couldn’t have been a writer if I hadn’t has access to my local library. There will be people coming up now who are just like me.”

The chairman of a support group for a library under threat of closure has previously slammed Wakefield Council chiefs for hitting a “soft target”.

Outwood Library is one of the 12 libraries threatened with closure.

Karl Grubb, chairman of Supporters of Outwood Library, said his group is seeking an alternative building as Outwood Library is currently housed in a portable building. He added: “Libraries are a soft target. We need a purpose built new building and we have not got the funds to do that.

“But we haven’t given up he fight and we are still trying to find an alternative building for the library.”