Campaign grows against cuts that would shut 375 libraries

Rob Sharp,Arts Correspondent
Tuesday 18 January 2011 01:00 GMT

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Anger against the funding bloodbath facing local libraries around the country swelled yesterday as key campaigners joined increasingly widespread protests against the cuts.

According to the Public Libraries News website, updated by Cheshire-based librarian Ian Anstice, 375 branch libraries and mobile book-lending services are currently threatened with closure, the result of local authority budget cuts to be introduced in April.

In Stony Statford, near Milton Keynes, residents spent last week withdrawing all of the town library’s 16,000 books in protest against Milton Keynes Council’s planned closure of the library. The local authority aims to save £26m in the next financial year. At one point books were being withdrawn at a rate of 378 an hour.

In Somerset, where the county council is proposing to axe funding for 20 of the 34 libraries under its jurisdiction, Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis signed up to a locally-organised campaign film to save the country’s lending libraries. Here, residents have also called for a national public inquiry into the library closures. Eavis will be joined by Wells MP Tessa Munt, Downton Abbey screenwriter Julian Fellowes and Anne Chisholm, chair of the Royal Society of Literature, in a six-minute protest video.

In Sonning Common, Oxfordshire, hundreds of protesters campaigned against the county council’s planned closure of 20 out of 43 of its libraries. “I think it is a little bit of a cheap shot closing a library,” said Chris Hirst, headteacher of Sonning Common Primary School, which pays £8,000 a year towards the running of Sonning Common Library, threatened with budget cuts. “I do not believe we would be left with a fully functioning library.”

In Suffolk, adults and children gathered outside Ipswich County Library to voice their concerns about funding cuts facing Suffolk County Council, which plans to slash 30 per cent of its library budget next year.

In Gloucestershire, campaigning group Friends of Gloucestershire libraries have collected 10,000 names in a petition against the county’s plans to cut library services by 43 per cent.

There was better news in Anglesey, where four threatened local libraries won a reprieve. John Rees Thomas, head of the county’s library services, said a recommendation not to close the libraries had been put forward to public consultation.

In central London campaigners warned that Marylebone Library could be axed. Gaby Higgs, chairman of the St Marylebone Society said she feared the library would have to close or move after planned renovation work has failed to materialise.

In recent weeks others speaking out for a public inquiry have included Joanna Trollope, Philip Pullman and Tony Christie. Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Saturday that his party would back campaigns to save libraries as “a place where community is built, as families get to know each other and form friendships”.

Online, thousands of supporters pledged their support on Twitter by employing the #savelibraries hashtag. Broadcaster Lauren Laverne and author Neil Gaiman among those Tweeting their support.

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