Fears for future of Yorkshire libraries as visits tumble

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VISITS TO libraries have nearly halved in some parts of the region in the past decade prompting fears over the future of the services, an investigation by The Yorkshire Post has revealed.

The figures, released through Freedom of Information requests, show in towns and cities such as Leeds and Rotherham, footfall has fallen by about a third since 2005. And in Calderdale, the data shows visitor numbers have dropped by 43 per cent in the last decade.

The revelation comes after The Yorkshire Post revealed in September that library funding has been slashed by more than a fifth in the last five years, with 80 per cent of services in some parts of the region now run by volunteers. The resulting situation, say campaigners, is inevitable.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Dr Lauren Smith, from the national campaign group, Voices for the Library. “There are cuts to budgets, to staff, there is a lack of ability to take the first step in making strategic decisions. It’s almost a race to the bottom for authorities as to what’s the minimum they can get away with providing.

“Public libraries, first and foremost, came about in the 19th century to provide literacy and access to literature. We need to get back to the view that libraries are the cornerstone of democracy.”

The figures vary widely, with communities in North Yorkshire seeing among the smallest falls of less than two per cent. Visits to libraries in York, which have operated independently of the council since 2014, fell just one per cent since 2012.

But the broader picture across Yorkshire is one of steep falls. In Rotherham and Leeds, comparable visitor numbers fell 30 per cent, and in Bradford 17 per cent. In Calderdale, there has been a 43 per cent drop in visitor numbers to libraries in the last decade.

Leeds City Council said it is broadening its offer, with library services becoming part of community hubs incorporating a range of services. This has proved popular, a spokesman said, with visitor numbers rising significantly and an increase in opening hours.

“Leeds Library service is also at the forefront of engaging with new technology and new audiences,” he added, adding that the service has won awards for its educational work.

Councils in Calderdale, meanwhile, say ensuring libraries remain relevant in the 21st century is very important. The cabinet member for neighbourhoods and communities, Coun Susan Press, stressed that there had not been any library closures in the last 10 years and a new strategy has been approved to ensure they remain “relevant to today’s society”.

She added: “Libraries are a lot more than books, and in a changing world it’s important they make the best possible use of their resources.”