CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to reduce opening hours at libraries across Ashfield say a council rethink to inject more cash into the service is still not good enough.
Huthwaite Library had been earmarked to have its hours cut from 19 to eight hours – but Nottinghamshire County Council has now proposed to set aside extra funding to take it back up to nine-and-a-half.
The news has been given the thumbs down by villagers and the Huthwaite Community Action Group, which took part in a two-hour read-in ‘protest’ at the library as part of national Save Our Libraries Day on Saturday.
Sutton West district councillor, Ray Buttery, said the small extension to opening hours would not make any difference and fears the library could eventually close.
“If the hours are cut so much people will not bother coming,” he said. “Once the footfall goes they will close. Elderly people will not want to jump on a bus and go to Sutton.
“I just wonder if it will stay open on a Saturday. All the councillors have surgeries here on a Saturday and if people are working during the week the only time they can get to the library is at the weekend.
“We have a children’s reading corner here. They need to have reading books because computers just are not the same.”
More than 50 people – including Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero – attended the read-in on Saturday and Coun Buttery said it had been a successful event.
“Lots of people came and some took out 18 books to emphasise the fact that the libraries should not be shut. It was a brilliant morning and everyone was together – that is what it is all about.
“Many people signed a petition, which we have given to the county council. Now we have to wait and see.”
Annesley Woodhouse, Jacksdale, Selston and Skegby libraries would also all have their hours reduced – but not by as much as had been expected due to the county council setting aside more than £70,000 for libraries following a public consultation.
But Ms De Piero, who is also Shadow Libraries Minister, dismissed the cash injection and pledged to keep up the pressure on Ministers to do more to save libraries.
“These cuts are directly as a result of budgets set by the Tory-led government in Westminster,” she said. “While I understand that difficult decisions have to be made, I have a particular issue with how Nottinghamshire County Council is distributing these cuts.
“The council says it has listened to feedback from the community but Huthwaite Library is still having its hours slashed by 50 per cent. At the same time, Ken Clarke’s rather more affluent constituency of Rushcliffe seems to be faring better – the council is spending £4.9m there on the library in West Bridgford.”
Under previous county council proposals, the annual book fund was reduced from £1.6m to £387,000. This has now been revised and 25 per cent of the fund restored, taking it to £793,000.
Added Ms De Piero: “I’m also worried that halving the book budget will mean libraries are left with older books on the shelves. Libraries need investment to stay alive and thriving, and new books draw people in to libraries – people who can’t necessarily afford to go out and buy the latest bestseller.”
The county council’s assistant head of libraries Philip Marshall said it was heartening to see the strength of feeling among folk who ‘valued their libraries so highly’.
He added: “We appreciate their concerns and also their right to publicly protest against the reduction in library hours.
“However, you’ll appreciate that with the severe financial pressures the council is under, we’ve had to make some tough decisions – we need to make savings of £87m next year, reinvesting £42m of that largely in services for the most vulnerable.
“Regrettably, libraries have had to take their share of the impact, but unlike many other local authorities, we have no plans to close any of our 60 libraries and we are still investing in capital projects including the £3.4m refurbishment of Mansfield library.
“We have consulted the public on options for library opening hours and listened closely to that feedback. Recognising their value to the communities they serve, we have lowered the reduction in opening hours for 28 of our smaller libraries and also put money back into our fund used to buy new books.”