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Authors join in fight to save Newcastle's Libraries
Newcastle council's plans to close "the vast majority" of the city's libraries have been branded "wrong and immoral" by furious authors including Philip Pullman, children's laureate Julia Donaldson and Anne Fine.
The council is looking to cut £7m from its library budget, meaning that most of the city's 18 libraries could be under threat. Local reports suggest that only the city centre library will be safe, with Newcastle's other branches all at risk of being shut down or passed to volunteers.
An announcement detailing the planned changes will be made next Tuesday, but a spokesman for the council said this morning that "some libraries will go and some will stay open".
"There will still be a high-quality, comprehensive service but we will be sharing facilities with other service providers to keep buildings open. We are hoping the public will pick up some of the shortfall," the spokesman said.
Authors have banded together to protest the planned changes, with an open letter to Newcastle's councillors expressing how "appalled [they are] to hear that council leaders are planning draconian cuts to the city's libraries".
"This is no time to cut libraries. It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts," write the authors, who also include Malorie Blackman, Beverley Naidoo and prominent library campaigner Alan Gibbons. "It is not the role of a Labour council to act as a conduit for the coalition government's 'austerity' cuts which disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable. We call on Newcastle's councillors to reconsider this wrong and immoral course."
Northumberland author David Almond, author of Skellig, told Newcastle's evening paper the Evening Chronicle that he backed its campaign to keep the libraries open. "A library is one of humankind's greatest inventions and is at the heart of our culture," he said. "The library liberates and educates us as individuals, allows us to look beyond the boundaries of our own locality, gives us a sense of our place in the wider world."
Tony Durcan, director of culture, libraries and lifelong learning at Newcastle city council, acknowledged there was likely to be "a public outcry at some of the measures we will propose", but said that 96% of residents would be no more than 1.5 miles from their nearest library, and that support would be available to those who found it difficult to travel that far.
"Public-spending cuts mean the city council must make savings of £90m over the next three years, a third of our total budget. Faced with agonising decisions about child protection, care for the elderly and emptying bins – where do libraries, leisure centres and culture rank? I think we all know the answer," he wrote in a piece for the council's website. "Yes, the service will be smaller with the closure of some libraries and leisure centres, and I am under no illusion that there will be a public outcry at some of the measures we will propose. But our remaining buildings will be modern and accessible, offering rich services, geared towards the best in customer service, with the best staff in the country."
The news from Newcastle follows the gathering of angry library campaigners from around the country at a conference in London this weekend, where they discussed plans to save a public library service they believe is hanging in the balance.
"Frankly, it is library users that so far have made all the running in trying to save services. Cultural and professional bodies have done little, and done it quietly, behind closed doors," said Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign. "The situation is beyond critical now. Campaigners will be upping their game. And we will work with any organisation that cares about literacy and libraries."
The Carnegie-shortlisted author Gibbons, in a speech at the conference, said that "the future of the public library service hangs in the balance".
"It would be a scandal for us to relax our fight for the library service," he said. "We fight on."