LIBRARIES: The future looks bleak

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When is a library not a library? Answer: when it’s a mere collection of books in a Northumberland leisure centre.

Can residents see what is happening to their local libraries?

Services and staff have been disappearing to be replaced by much reduced collections of books placed in corridors and small rooms in leisure centres.

A library is more than a shelf of books, and library staff are more than just book shelvers. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the opinion of our councillors.

It seems that they have no idea of the service provided by staff, from answering queries about obscure books, finding information and helping residents access council services, to guiding someone how to fill in online forms, assisting with job searches, helping with homework, providing tourist information, printing off boarding passes for people without IT skills, or simply providing a lonely person with a safe place to come for company.

These are the things that will be missed when our libraries become collections of books without professional staff.

Northumberland County Council proudly announces that it has not closed any libraries and pats itself on the back, even though it is a statutory service.

Soon, I predict, there will be no library staff in leisure centres and leisure attendants will be expected to fulfil all the requirements.

This is not the “improved” service that Coun Davey promised.

A recent newsletter from the Labour party states about leisure centres and libraries: “In Newbiggin by the Sea, through the diligent work of Labour councillors and by thinking outside the box, both services have been secured.”

However, it appears that the purpose was to obtain the old library buildings so that the council could create a car park to relieve congestion in Cleveland Terrace.

There were plans to have a purpose-built library in the centre, but these have been shelved. The library has moved into ‘temporary’ accommodation in the leisure centre, reducing its book stock by about 75 per cent.

The old library was a warm, welcoming and spacious place where people congregated, but now it’s just a heartless room at the back of the leisure centre.

The plans for its permanent home show a further reduction in space, moving shelves into the draughty reception area. The ‘library’ is open for longer hours, but is not staffed, other than by the leisure staff.

It certainly isn’t a pleasure to visit the library any more. The future looks bleak for Newbiggin library users, who seem to be paying the price of saving the leisure centre.

I’m afraid it’s the same in every other leisure centre library, including the flagship centre in Ashington.

The sad thing is we are just sitting back and letting this happen. In a few years’ time the library service will be a shadow of its former self.

You may not have used your local library in the past year and think it doesn’t concern you, but you never know what the future will hold, and when you might need its services.

Once they are gone they will not be brought back.

Jan Curry