Last year the Government’s austerity cuts removed £25M from Library services and 121 Libraries closed nationally. In Northumberland those austerity cuts have bitten just as deeply, yet Northumberland County Council have managed to increase the hours library services are open to the public by 11%.
Book budgets were also severely damaged through austerity, reducing 8.4% nationally over the twelve month period. Critics claimed the cuts endanger the long-term survival of the sector. Yet in Northumberland a different balance has been achieved through embracing new technology.
How have Northumberland County Council achieved this trend breaking difference? Northumberland is a huge county, with its unitary all-purpose Council delivering services across 20,000sqKm of some of the most sparsely populated areas of Britain. The service was a mixture of solid listed buildings in some their ex-industrial market towns, volunteer run Libraries in a number of larger villages and mobile provision in the North Pennines, Cheviots and Keilder Forrest/National park areas of the County. In 2013 a Labour administration was formed who decided to attempt to halt closures their success story is enviable.
Valerie Tyler the portfolio holder for Arts Leisure and Culture likes to tell her tale, “We decided to look at co-location into buildings we have no debt on in order to run library services more efficiently. In the main we chose to drift towards our Leisure Centres without realising we had struck gold when it came to working with a public who had given libraries the brush off years ago. Government cuts from 2008 onwards had made the Council look at reducing hours as a method of making savings, yet here we were able to offer extended hours using leisure centre staffs t help out. We have also catalogued every book in every library across our lovely county and have developed a click and collect system, If your local library doesn’t have the book you desire then you can order it and we will have it in your local library in 48hrs. My most proud boast is that we may have relocated libraries in some towns but haven’t closed one yet”. “We will not join other councils and wear the badge of shame but we insist that Government looks at future funding to try and help out where we can’t”.