“HANDS off our libraries” – that was the plea from a rally against proposed library closures.
Around 100 people, young and old, took to the streets for the march from Hendon Library, one of those facing closure, to Market Square in Sunderland city centre.
Along they way, they gathered thousands of signatures in protest to plans to axe a number of local libraries.
Council bosses said in June that nine would close in a bid to modernise services and save an estimated £850,000.
Those facing the chop are: Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green.
Plans to close the venues could be formalised at a cabinet meeting at the Civic Centre on Wednesday and may be rolled out as early as October.
Ross Newton-Taylor, nine, a New Silksworth Juniors pupil, was one of the youngest library-goers at the march who is pleading with councillors to re-think plans.
“Please don’t close our libraries,” he said. “We love reading books and they are important to our communities and they help us with our homework. I really enjoy going to Silksworth Library and the staff are really friendly.”
Authors Mary Talbot and Mark Metcalf and Michael McKnight from Frankie & the Heartstrings are among those who have thrown their weight behind pressure group Hands Off Sunderland Libraries.
Campaigners are concerned that literacy levels of youngsters and social mobility could be greatly affected should the closures be confirmed.
There are also worries that unemployed people will find it harder to look for work if they cannot access computers at libraries.
David Lawson, 49, from Hendon, regularly uses Hendon Library.
“It’s a well-used library,” he said. “I go in every day to use the computers to look for work and there’s usually about 50 people in.
“I would struggle to get into town every day to use the central library and if I can’t look for work it will affect my job seeker’s allowance.”
Campaigners are particularly concerned about the proposed closure of Hendon and Monkwearmouth Libraries, which were built with money donated by philanthropist Sir Andrew Carnegie.
Scots-born Carnegie, who made millions in the American steel industry of the mid-19th century, went on to become one of the greatest philanthropists of his generation, funding 3,000 libraries with the aim of promoting literacy and education. Protester Helmut Izaks, from Millfield, said: “The Carnegie libraries are not the council’s to close, they were built for the people of Sunderland.”
l Sunderland City Council’s cabinet will meet at 2pm on Wednesday.