Council in talks over future of Sunderland libraries

Community group Back on the Map celebrating taking over Hendon Library.
Community group Back on the Map celebrating taking over Hendon Library.
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Discussions are now underway with partners to take over the running of the city's libraries.

Sunderland City Council's cabinet endorsed plans to retain a city centre library and town centre libraries in Houghton and Washington when it met earlier this month.

At the same time it agreed to open talks with the voluntary, community, public and private sectors with a view to them operating the remaining library buildings as community venues which include a library offer.

This approach has already been successful at the former Hendon library, which is now run by community group Back on the Map.

More then 50 people from groups interested in running library buildings as community venues turned up to an initial meeting with the council recently to discuss their ideas and work is now progressing to develop these.

Councillor John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, said: "We have had expressions of interest from a number of community groups who are interested in running library buildings as community venues which would also offer books and digital library services.

"We are going to be working closely with these groups over the next few weeks to help them develop their ideas further.

"We are hopeful that we will be able to find a solution which will allow library buildings in areas where there is a community interest in running them to stay open as community venues with access to library books and digital library services beyond April 1, wherever this is possible.

"We would also ask any community groups who missed last week's meeting, but are interested in running their local library as a community venue, to get in touch."

The number of people visiting libraries in the city has halved in the last four years. At the same time the number of people accessing services digitally is continuing to rise. This reflects the situation nationally with fewer people using traditional library services.

Coun Kelly, said: "The proposed changes reflect the unprecedented cuts to our budget since 2010 as a result of Government austerity measures and cost pressures.

"It also takes account of the fact that people have changed their reading habits, partly because of the internet and ebooks, but also because books are now much cheaper than they used to be.

"This is about delivering the best library services we possibly can to reflect changing demands within the reduced budget we have available."

Any community groups who are interested in running their local library building as a community venue which would also offer books and digital library services can contact Marie Brett at marie.brett@sunderland.gov.uk.