Sunderland among the worst for axing libraries with more than half of branches closed, figures show

Hendon Library one of those that has closed.
Hendon Library one of those that has closed.
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Latest figures show 11 libraries have closed across Sunderland since 2010.

An investigation by the BBC has highlighted the national decline in libraries since that time.

Eight thousand jobs have been lost as nearly 350 libraries have closed since 2010 across the country.

Over the same period, some 15,500 volunteers have been recruited and 343 libraries have closed, leading to fears over the future of the profession.

Sunderland is one of four areas where more than half the libraries have closed since 2010, either buildings, mobile or both. It has lost nine static libraries and two mobile libraries since that time, however, there are no plans to close any more this year.

Children’s author Alan Gibbons said the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”.

The BBC English Regions data journalism team has compiled data from 207 authorities responsible for running libraries through the Freedom of Information Act.

It shows 343 libraries have closed since 2010.

Of those, 132 were mobile services, while 207 were based in buildings.

The number of closures in England is higher than the government’s official estimate of 110 buildings shut and a further 111 closures are planned this year.

The number of paid staff in libraries fell from 31,977 in 2010 to 24,044 now, a drop of 7,933 (25%) for the 182 libraries that provided comparable data.

A further 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups, while 50 have been handed to external organisations to run.

Mr Gibbons, who wrote Blue Peter Book Award winner Shadow of the Minotaur, said: “Opening hours are slashed, book stocks reduced.

“Volunteers are no longer people who supplement full time staff but their replacements. This constitutes the hollowing out of the service. We are in dangerous territory.”

Librarian Ian Anstice, who runs the Public Libraries News website in his spare time, said the cuts were “without precedent”.

He said: “Councils learnt early on how unpopular simply closing libraries is so they have had to cut the vital service in other, less obvious ways.

“It can come across in many forms: reduced opening hours, reduced book fund, reduced maintenance and reduced staffing.

“In all its incarnations, it is harmful to the service, creating the risk that once-loyal users of libraries will come away disappointed and stop using them.

“Our public library system used to be envy of the world. Now it is used as a cautionary tale that librarians use worldwide to scare their colleagues.”