Concern over Sunderland library closure plans

Sunderland City Library, Fawcett Street, Sunderland
Sunderland City Library, Fawcett Street, Sunderland
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LIBRARY users could be struggling to make their opinions heard as councillors plan sweeping reforms.

The first phase of a public consultation into future library services has ended.

Sunderland City Council bosses insist the response has been one of the largest they have ever seen.

However, a scrutiny committee report highlighted concerns that current library users, who it claims are predominantly older people, “may have been less engaged in the consultation than non-users”.

While the report accepts hard copies of the consultation document were placed in libraries, there is concern that Wearside library staff did not encourage visitors to complete the form.

The proposals could see a number of static libraries close, with library services opening up in other community buildings functioning with the help of volunteers.

A second phase of consultation will take place from next month. But with the final plans due to be revealed in July, the committee also questioned if there is enough time allocated to make it worthwhile.

Scrutiny committee chairman Councillor Richard Tate said: “It seems short, but I’m sure they will ask for more time if they need it.

“It’s one of the biggest changes taking place in our city at the moment.”

Coun John Kelly, Cabinet member for culture, welcomed the input of the scrutiny committee but defended the consultation process.

“We are trying to make sure it’s all-inclusive, and it has yielded the biggest return in a long time. The fact library workers have worked with us on this is a real positive.

“Of the 2,700 people who took part in the consultation, ninety-five per cent said they or their household were library users.

“As library users are more likely to be female and aged 55 plus, this would suggest that traditional, older library users were very much involved in the consultation process and made their views known.

“The intention is to take the second of three reports on libraries to Cabinet in June.”