Council bosses approve Sunderland library closures

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A NUMBER of libraries are set to close after cabinet agreed proposals to slash services.

Nine sites – Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green – are almost certain to be axed in a bid to save £850,000 a year.

But campaigners, who held a protest outside yesterday’s meeting, are hoping to derail plans before they are rubberstamped by full council on September 25.

Cabinet agreed a report to reduce the number of static libraries in Sunderland from 20 to 11 but, in a rare move, allowed a representative from pressure group Hands Off Sunderland Libraries to put forward their concerns from the public gallery.

“We have a huge variety of ideas as to how the libraries can be utilised, it’s not just about books,” said Klaire Ferry, from Hendon, as she addressed cabinet.

She added: “We don’t think you are taking into consideration what these buildings are about, which is social unity, especially in deprived areas.”

The money saved by the library closure plans – which also include extending library services into schools, children’s centres, community centres and other venues – will go towards the £100million savings the council needs to make over the next three years.

Many councillors, while agreeing to the report, expressed their remorse in doing so.

Councillor Graeme Miller said: “Nobody becomes a councillor to shut things. The focus should be on the Coalition Government who have cut our funding by £100million in the past three years.

“That’s 25 per cent of our budget gone. We’re not doing this because we want to, we’re doing this because we have to. Because of the internet, because of Facebook, because of gadgets, we don’t need libraries in the way we used to when I was 15.”

The plans, which are set to be rolled out from next month will see the introduction of an e-book and e-audio service as well as improved IT in library hubs and community libraries and an extended Books at Home service for the elderly.

City Library in Fawcett Street will also see a major refurbishment in the spring as part of the plans.

The introduction of community reservations will also mean that in future people will be able to request library books via an online catalogue at post offices, health centres, community centres and children’s centres and pick them up from a pre-nominated location.

The council believes the proposed changes will encourage more people to use library services than at present.

The 11 libraries which will be retained under the proposals accounted for 87.5 per cent of all library visits in 2012/13.