Northamptonshire may close up to 28 of its 36 libraries

Authors including Alan Moore and Philip Pullman join readers condemning move being considered as a way to make £115m in savings

Proposals to axe more than half of Northamptonshire’s public libraries have been denounced by readers and authors. Up to 28 of the county’s 36 libraries could be closed if the plans get the go-ahead. The move has been branded “monstrous” by Watchmen creator Alan Moore.

Northamptonshire county council, which needs to claw back £115m in savings over the next four years, has launched a consultation on the future of its library service. Three options have been put forward: two would shut the doors of 21 libraries; the third would close 28, leaving only eight branches open.

A proposal from Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Stanbra to halt cuts to the libraries service was rejected by the county council last week. “We wanted them to add a fourth option, which said ‘keep libraries as they are’, but the Conservatives voted against that,” Stanbra said. “At the moment, the consultation is giving the choice of three options, all of which involve the closure of libraries.”

Stanbra said he doubted that the council would be able to provide the statutory requirement of a comprehensive and efficient public library service if 21 branches closed. “All of the libraries left would be in the larger urban centres, and this is quite a rural county,” he said. “People here are definitely against the closure of libraries … [they] are the heart of communities.”

Over the past week, Stanbra added, locals had demonstrated against the cuts and petitions had been launched. Louise Stubbs, who is part of a campaign to save Brackley library, admitted that some of the libraries facing closure were small, but added that “public transport between locations is also quite poor, so any closures would be difficult for local people to manage”.

Listing a range of services provided through Brackley library, from blue badges and bus passes to a food bank, free IT support, children’s clubs “and about 50 other things”, she said: “ There is nowhere else for these things to be. If Brackley closed there would be people who just can’t travel to Towcester and [would] miss out.”

alan moore
‘How can it be acceptable that they are closing down the one means that many people have of actually properly educating themselves?’ … Alan Moore. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Authors have joined the campaign against the closures. Philip Pullman wrote on Twitter: “Somehow we’re letting our civilisation drain away into the sand, and the people in charge don’t think it matters.”

Moore, whose vast novel Jerusalem – about his hometown of Northampton – was published last year, last month described the proposals as “completely unacceptable and completely monstrous” .

“The priorities of this council are appalling,” he told the Northampton Chronicle. “When they have managed to turn a lot of the town into a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, when the Upper Mounts looks like Sarajevo in the 1990s, then how can it be acceptable that beyond this they are also closing down the one means that many people have of actually properly educating themselves, … [These are] facilities that I relied upon when I grew up in a house that didn’t have many books … but there was always the library. It was a treasured institution that made me what I am.”

“Significant funding pressures” were blamed by a council spokesman for the threat to the library service. He added: “We are committed to maintaining a library service that continues to serve the people who borrow items and those who use the library for other services, such as computer workshops, registration services and access to borough and district council services.”

Geographical location, deprivation indicators, patterns of usage, book borrowing and visitor numbers had all been factors in drawing up the proposals, the spokesman said: “We encourage community groups and other interested organisations to consider whether their local library is a facility they would like to take on and develop as a community space.”

The proposed cuts in Northamptonshire county council were evidence of how hard-pressed public service budgets are, said Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, the library and information association. He warned that the downgrading of economic growth forecasts would place further pressure on council budgets and library services across the country.

“With our teenagers ranking at the bottom of 23 developed nations according to the OECD, there is an urgent need to improve literacy skills as the bedrock of an advanced economy,” Poole said. “Drastic reductions to local authority budgets leading to public library cuts only compound these issues.”

CILIP is lobbying the government “to provide adequate funding for the beleaguered sector in the Local Government Finance Settlement, and to establish a cross-party commission to tackle the youth literacy crisis,” he added.

Consultation on the Northamptonshire proposals closes on 13 January. Councillors will make a final decision on 22 February.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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