Southampton City Council are proposing to withdraw funding from five of its 11 libraries and cease the mobile library service.
Among the libraries affected are the two neighbourhood libraries on Burgess Road and Cobbett Road and the three community libraries in Weston, Thornhill and Millbrook.
However, the larger Central library and the district center libraries in Portswood, Shirley, Bitterne, Woolston and Lordshill will remain under the proposals.
The plans were the subject of a consultation from November last year until March and are due to come before the Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 18th August. The proposal document listed a number of options put to the public with the council’s recommendation being to withdraw funding and cease managing the five smallest libraries in the city by the 31st March 2016.
However, the libraries may yet be saved if the council is successful in encouraging what it calls ‘community led library initiatives in these buildings‘. However the council has made it clear that. if this does not occur. then the libraries will close.
By withdrawing the funding from these services, the council looks set to save £286,200 a year at a time when the city is facing budget cuts and restraints.
The council argues the library service will remain effective as the remaining six libraries will be in key district centres in the city and, between them, accounted for 78% of the borrowing in 2013/2014.
However there is growing protestations at the proposals. A silent protest took place in March during the initial consultation which was attended by approximately 150 people and raised the profile of the consultation to the public.
TV presenter, and former Southampton resident, Chris Packham has spoken out about the library closures. According to the Daily Echo, Packham described the proposals as disappointing, stating it was “irresponsible of the council to take this sort of action“. He commented:
Like everyone else, I understand we are in a time of austerity, as much as they say the recession is over, the impact continues. But to not invest in the future education of our populace and not provide these essential repositories of engagement, knowledge and education seems to be a sad oversight.
7,706 people responded to the initial consultation with 53% agreeing with the council’s proposals and only 40% agreeing that savings should be made from the library budget compared with 42% against.
Several options and suggestions were made to the council regarding alternative income sources to fund the libraries including suggestions that the two universities in the city step in. These were dismissed by the council stating that university funding could not be spent on a purely community facility. However the university has promised to promote any community initiative if they come to fruition.
The final decision will take place at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 18th August at 4.30pm in the Civic Centre. The public are free to attend the meeting.
Take a step into Burgess Road Library with Stephen Collins’ earlier article for the Wessex Scene.