Surrey Libraries Face Closure

Eleven public libraries in Surrey are facing closure following council budget cuts that will force them to be run solely by volunteers.

The decision comes as libraries across the country are being threatened by cuts and closure.

Surrey County Council’s new measures mean that volunteers will be asked to help run smaller libraries as professional librarians are cut.

These ‘community-partnered libraries’ have been proposed as a cost-effective measure in an effort to tackle budget pressures allowing the council to focus their funds and resources on bigger and busier libraries.

The proposal follows months of cuts that have resulted in a dramatic reduction in library resources all across the UK.

Only this September, the mobile library service was terminated in Surrey.

The council asserts that this decision was made based on the lack of people using the mobile service, making it redundant.

Volunteers will be replacing trained management at libraries in areas including Ewell Court, Bagshot, Byfleet and New Haw.

Stoneleigh Library has already been forced to begin appealing for volunteers in preparation for its loss of professional staff. 

Friends of Stoneleigh Library held an information session last week in a bid to recruit 80 volunteers; but disappointingly only 25 people turned up, highlighting the potential flaws in the council’s plan.

Lee Godfrey, press officer for the local campaign organisation, Surrey Libraries Action Movement, said the community-partnered libraries were not a long-term solution.

He believes that initial volunteer support will decrease over time, leading to the inevitable closure of the libraries.

“It is an unworkable model and unsustainable in the long-term – it won’t be long before volunteers give up because of their busy schedules – initial enthusiasm could drop by 50 per cent almost straight away.”

Mr Godfrey asserts that communities in the areas with closures will suffer, especially in the less affluent neighbourhoods where the ability to access free information and educational support is essential.

“It will be easier for affluent areas to get volunteers as they don’t have to work as well – yet the catch 22 is that when you come from a less affluent area you are most likely to want or need to borrow a book.”

Mr Godfrey said  that the cutbacks of staff were unnecessary and that just closing each library “twenty minutes earlier every day” would save the government the same amount of money.

The decision to introduce volunteer-run libraries will not just affect the borrowing of books but will also bring an end to library support services.

The local libraries provide critical services such as homework clubs that provide educational support and essential child-care that many parents rely on.

For many residents these closures and cutbacks are a cause for great concern.

Victoria Williamson, 21, from Surbiton, said: “It was a big part of my childhood. Instead of cutting back, it would be nice to see the council investing some time into seeing what could be done to libraries to encourage people to go and use them.”

Matthew Russell, 40, from Surbiton, said: “When I was younger it was somewhere my parents would always take me, I used to go every week. When I was growing up, the only place we could get information for school was from the library.”

Mr Godfrey agreed: “That’s how I learnt to read; who knows what impact closures will have on literacy. If it wasn’t for the library, I don’t know if I would have done so well.”

“For me it is about the access that children have when they’re growing up in those critical stages.”

Surrey council’s cabinet is set to review the scheme later this month.

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