MORE libraries could be set to close on Tyneside after councillors in Gateshead followed their Newcastle neighbours by announcing plans to pass on facilities.
Gateshead Council has said it has 12 core libraries that are safe but the remaining five – at Sunderland Road, Low Fell, Winlaton, Lobley Hill and Ryton – are to be offered to local people to be operated as community-run libraries. The move follows plans in Newcastle to consider the future of the majority of its branch libraries, which has caused outrage in the city.
Budget consultations carried out by Gateshead Council in 2011 suggested that only 35% of respondents were in favour of reducing the number of libraries, but 62% were in favour of involving the community in running and delivering library services.
Coun Linda Green, cabinet member for culture, said: “Residents will be aware of the difficult budget decisions which are currently facing the council.
“We’d like to encourage people to come along to our consultations to find out what it’s all about.”
The council will be holding a series of public meetings to discuss the plans and has also drawn up a questionnaire that will be available online and in libraries for people to leave their opinions. Council chiefs in Newcastle are coming under pressure to re-consider their decision on library closures.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has warned the council against punishing library users for their local spending decisions.
A spokesman said that “public library services are not one-size-fits-all” and urged the council to consider options other than closure.
But Tony Durcan, director of libraries and lifelong learning at the authority, said: “Many of our libraries will remain open, operating in the same building as other shared community services, like customer service centres and shared housing schemes, and we hope others will stay open through the support and goodwill of local residents.
“There will be new ways of providing library services focusing on self-service facilities, with the council supporting access to books without the overheads of a library and there will be an expansion of our books and digital services.”
Mr Durcan added libraries were “essential”, but “we have to change”.
The council is considering the future of all of its branch libraries not already in joint service centres as it looks to save £7m from its library budget towards £90m of cuts.