‘Readers will be better off after library closures,’ claims Sunderland Council

Library campaigners voice their anger
Library campaigners voice their anger
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AS the storm settles after last week’s closure of nine Sunderland libraries, city leaders have promised it will mark the start of a new, more flexible service.

Capital investment to the tune of £500,000 is going into improving existing IT facilities to bring the remaining libraries into the 21st century.

The funds have been allocated as the council aims to save £850,000 a year by reducing the number of static libraries it runs, branding them outdated.

However, council bosses claim this is a rare occasion when delivering efficiency savings can make a service better.

The changes will mean that library services will arrive at community centres, sheltered housing schemes, schools and even supermarkets.

These facilities will house what the council calls ‘community book collections’, as well as events such as storytelling sessions.

But as eight of the doomed libraries closed their doors at the end of last week, Silksworth Library will remain open for business in a different way.

People will still find library services in the same building, but it will not be manned by a permanent staff.

The council is working with voluntary and community organisations to ensure the remaining former libraries will not stand empty.

As part of the overhaul, the Books on Wheels service, now called Books at Home, will be made available to anyone unable to access library services because of their age, health or mobility problems.

Councillor John Kelly, the authority’s cabinet member for culture, hopes the changes will increase the number of library users.

“We believe this is really a modern way forward, engaging with the community that we need to engage with,” said the Washington North councillor.

But he warned that the process will be a gradual one over the next few months as planning now starts following the conclusion of the statutory process.

December will see the launch of an e-book and e-audio service, while hubs and community libraries will benefit from better IT and access to online information. The city library and local studies centre will also receive a major overhaul and refurbishment in spring.

Gary Duncan, of the Hands off Sunderland Libraries campaign, said a meeting will be held this week to discuss the possibility of campaigning for the reopening of some libraries.