READERS in Sunderland are borrowing more books than before nine libraries were closed in a controversial move last year – council bosses said.
A year on from the move, which was intended to save £850,000 a year and left Wearside with just 11 libraries, the closure scheme has been hailed a success by those in power.
The cost-saving exercise sparked protest marches and petitions at the time, along with the formation of the Save our Libraries group.
Now, figures contained in a report to Sunderland City Council’s scrutiny committee, show the number of books being issued has risen from 673,568 last year, to 689,683 this year.
It also says the number of community activities, including reading groups, rhyme times and knit and natter groups, have more than doubled.
Readers are also able to borrow books from four times as many places as before the closures, including supermarkets, pubs and schools.
Scrutiny committee chairman, Coun Norma Wright, said: “We considered the proposals for libraries over a year ago, so we were keen to receive a further report about the how these had developed and the impact they had made. We know that a lot of people haven’t found the changes easy and would have preferred things to stay as they were.
“This is very much work in progress and we’re certainly not complacent.
“However, we are pleased that despite all the changes, one year on more people are accessing library services across the city.”
The council’s proposals, which took effect last October, centred on extending library services into community venues, including Easington Lane Community Access Point.
Its project manager, Susan Brown, said: “We have a fast flow of books in and out of the building and there has been a good take up of specific topics.
“For example, the team helped us select appropriate books related to the First World War, health and gardening, which support projects that community members are involved in.”
Gary Duncan, who was part of the Save our Libraries campaign, said: “Firstly, I’d like to say that the council are contradicting their original nonsense. Their argument was that people aren’t using libraries anyway so they won’t mind if they lose them. This is proof that people do want libraries and just need a bit of encouragement.
“There may be more places with books, but the public have no say in how they are run. They are at the mercy of a free market.
“We will see that what libraries remain are defended.”
Of the nine former library buildings, six are still delivering library services or have been found another use.
Hendon Library has become a community hub offering library and a range of other services, after being taken over by Back on the Map.
The former Silksworth Library is now home to Beckwith Mews Resource Centre. Age UK is now delivering services from the former Doxford Park Library building, while Fencehouses YMCA has temporarily taken over Fencehouses Library.
Washington Green, Monkwearmouth and Southwick libraries have been sold to local businesses and Easington Lane and East Herrington are about to go on the market.