Libraries one year on
Thanks to you for helping to maintain our library network
Sometimes desperate times call for new approaches. Cuts to our revenue budget from Government meant we were faced with some terrible choices last year, among the worst was our proposal to close libraries across the city.
Quite rightly, people were angry, furious that services they cherished were now under threat thanks to Government funding cuts.
I was angry as well. As I said at the time, I did not enter politics to cut libraries, which are a source of inspiration and learning to local communities.
The cuts came from Westminster, but people took a lot of their anger out on the council. Some even argued that we should break the law and set an illegal budget so we could save libraries and other services that were now at risk.
A packed meeting at Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms one year ago saw a procession of speakers decry the council for what they described as ‘cultural vandalism’.
But a year on, what actually happened? What does our library network look like now?
I’d argue that, thanks to communities and partners across our city, it has survived and is showing signs of growth.
I’m proud we took the radical step of having an open and honest conversation with people through our Let’s Talk budget consultation.
We told people that we needed their help to maintain a decent service.
And in turn local people and organisations showed they had the appetite to run these services and helped us redefine a positive library network fit for the 21st century.
Only one library, Moorside, actually closed. Although this was a massive loss to the local community – it is remarkable that we managed to make the savings we needed to without closing more.
We now have a core of eight city council run libraries with our modern, award-winning City Library at its heart.
On top of that there are two libraries run by the community in Jesmond and Dinnington and we have four partnership funded libraries which we run in conjunction with other organisations.
The future of Fawdon and Newbiggin Hall libraries is still uncertain, although discussions are taking place with a number of interested parties.
Discussions around Blakelaw Library are more advanced and we are hopeful this will be our next partnership funded library.
And despite a year of stress and uncertainty, our team of dedicated staff has continued to do ground-breaking work that is gaining national recognition, working closely with the communities and organisations that are taking on some of our libraries.
We have been recognised by a national pilot for e-books, we still attract award-winning authors for talks and workshops, we had a very successful Summer Reading Challenge for children and young people, our work clubs are fully subscribed, and our City Library is home to all sorts of events including comic festivals, the new Business and Intellectual Property Centre and the recent Books on Tyne festival.
It wasn’t always easy, but one year on, I think Newcastle still has a library service to be proud of.
View the map of our library network.