The Speaker
Wednesday, 29 May 2024 – 23:17

Libraries on the brink of closure as visitor and staff numbers at a record low

Libraries across the UK are set to be a luxury of the past as visitor and staff numbers plummet to an all-time low following increased government spending cuts.

As reported by the Express and Star, people using libraries in the West Midlands was down 10 million in 2016-17 alone with 130 libraries nationwide closing for good.

It comes after a rapid decrease in central government funding to local authorities since austerity cuts nine years ago, leaving councils struggling to find the money for libraries and its non-essential services.

The worrying figures suggest volunteers and those doing work-experience will be picking up the slack in libraries as paid workers have decreased by 40 per cent since 2010.

Nearly 900 paid staff have either been let off or have thrown in the towel during the period and it seems the poorest areas have been hit the hardest by the government slash to spending.

Walsall has seen nine of its libraries close, while Dudley and Wolverhampton libraries lost as much as 17 hours a week in the hope to stay open with limited staff supply.

And amid these cash-strapped times, councils are getting creative in their approach to ensure libraries stay at the heart of communities.

Conservative councillor for Penn in Wolverhampton, Paul Singh, was in 2017 involved in a campaign to save his ward’s library when the lack of budget threatened its closure.

Speaking to the Express and Star, councillor Singh said it underwent a £60,000 makeover as part of a wider city project to create a “sustainable” library system that is about “more than just books”.

He said: “The library serves as a meeting hub for elderly and retired people, they can get a cup of coffee here and chat with their friends. There are also playgroups, so there is something for all members of the community to get involved with.”

But councillor Singh said if the government wants to see libraries exist in the future, it needs to reconsider its funding to local authorities.

He added: “People power kept Penn Library open last time, but we would rather not have to go through it all again.”

Although the makeover method in Wolverhampton has maintained its public library usage, there is no denying that councils nationwide are under mounting pressure to prioritise their services – and libraries are definitely not first on the list. 

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