'Fight goes on' amid concern over council plans for community library

Campaigners against council changes to a community library in Redcar say their fight is continuing with a petition being launched.

Redcar and Cleveland Council’s cabinet agreed proposals in March aimed at creating a “comprehensive, efficient and fit for purpose” library service and potentially saving £400,000 a year. Some smaller libraries in the borough are to close and reduced opening hours at others are being put in place with the council also hoping volunteers will help operate some facilities.

Opposition has been voiced over replacing library staff at Laburnum Library, in Redcar, with a self-service machine, although a statutory book lending offer will remain.

Former Liberal Democrat councillor Alison Barnes said more than 2,000 residents had now signed a petition in respect of Laburnum Library. But council leader Alec Brown said the petition was misleading as it described saving the library from closure and this was never in the local authority’s plans.

The matter was raised again at a full council meeting on Thursday by Councillor Mary Ovens, another Lib Dem, who asked what council services would remain.

In a statement shared with the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mrs Barnes said: “The fight goes on.” She said members of the public had queued to sign the petition when it was put on display at a town centre market.

Referring to the potential of a volunteer group taking over the day to day running of the library, she said: “What happens if this group fails…or ceases to exist? Will the council decide to sell the building to a developer for flats, or a multi-occupancy dwelling, or something else?”

She added: “Self-service machines do not know what kind of books you like, or your favourite author, so they cannot recommend any books you might enjoy. The machine cannot help children do their homework, research a topic, or help them find what they need on the internet.”

Members of the public signing the petition at a market stall
Members of the public signing the petition at a market stall -Credit:UGC

Cllr Brown, meanwhile, told the LDRS two potential groups had been shortlisted to help operate the library and there had been concessions made in terms of retaining computers and “future proofing” the building for its current purpose.

The Labour leader said: “Yes we are saving money on librarians - unfortunately it is people where the savings are - that is a symptom of underfunding we can’t get away from.

“For me, however, if we get this right, it is a good news story - instead of being open two days a week it is being opened five days a week. There will also be services for men’s groups with PTSD, dementia activities and all sorts of things.”

Deputy leader, Councillor Carrie Richardson, who has the culture brief on the local authority, said: “The council is absolutely committed to providing an excellent library service, including during this time when the authority is under severe financial pressure.

“That’s why we’re aiming to work even more closely with the community and a number of community groups have expressed an interest in helping to run Laburnum Road Library. We expect that the building will actually be busier with a variety of new uses and group activity right at the heart of the community.

“Our officers are now in the process of working with these groups as we ask them to demonstrate how they will be able to continue to provide a first-rate library service before making a decision on who will run the library.”

She added that the council was excited at the prospect of a new library being built in nearby Redcar High Street using regeneration funds from the Government’s Town Deal scheme. It was also planning to expand a home delivery and online book borrowing service.