Sunderland City Council has begun discussions with groups that might be interested in running libraries in the city.
Earlier this month, the council’s cabinet agreed to keep the city centre library and libraries in Houghton and Washington under council control.
At the same time, the cabinet decided to initiate talks with organisations that might wish to run the city’s other libraries as community venues that offer a library service as a part of their provision.
These organisations could be voluntary or community groups, but they could also be private companies or public sector bodies.
Such an approach is now underway at the old Hendon Library, which is run by Back on the Map, a community group.
Back on the Map describe this building as “a multi-purpose community venue for Hendon” and “a local meeting place, used by a host of local community groups for meetings, social activities and events.” The building is also “the largest ‘community library’ in the city.”
Sunderland City Council recently held a meeting for groups interested in running their local libraries, to which over 50 people turned up.
Councillor John Kelly, the council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said, “We have had expressions of interest from a number of community groups who are interested in running library buildings as community venues which would also offer books and digital library services.”
“We are going to be working closely with these groups over the next few weeks to help them develop their ideas further.”
“We are hopeful that we will be able to find a solution which will enable library buildings in areas where there is a community interest in running them to stay open as community venues.”
“We would ask any community groups who missed last week’s meeting to get in touch.”
The number of Sunderland residents visiting their libraries has decreased by 50% in the last four years although the number accessing digital services is rising.
This is similar to the national picture. Across Britain, people are using traditional library services less frequently. A 2016 report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport showed that just 33.4% of adults had visited a library in the past 12 months compared to 48.2% in 2006.
Councillor Kelly commented, “The proposed changes reflect the unprecedented cuts to our budget since 2010 as a result of government austerity measures.”
“It also takes account of the fact that people have changed their reading habits, partly because of the internet and e-books, but also because books are now much cheaper than they used to be.”
“This is about delivering the best library services we possibly can to reflect changing demands within the reduced budget we have available.”
Any groups interested in running libraries as community venues can contact Marie Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org.