SHEFFIELD is set to lose some of its 27 community libraries as part of swingeing budget cuts– unless community groups can be found to help run them, The Star can reveal.
And Sheffield Council’s decision on which libraries are proposed for closure are set to rest on how close they are to alternative branches, rather than levels of usage.
The criteria means the most vulnerable libraries will be where several sites are clustered nearby and have good public transport links between them, such as Frencheville and Crystal Peaks, and Broomhill, Upperthorpe, Walkley and Hillsborough.
But libraries such as Tinsley, the least used in the city with just 47,387 visits in 2010/11, could be spared under equalities law because the nearest branches, at Darnall or Firth Park, are not easy to travel to.
One community group, which fought to save its local library from closure 20 years ago, is ready for a battle against any closure proposals.
Walkley library is vulnerable because it had only 85,800 visits in 2010/11 compared with 192,000 at Hillsborough, 201,000 at Broomhill and 118,000 at Upperthorpe – and there are frequent bus services to the neighbouring areas.
Grenville Wilkinson, Walkley Community Forum chairman, said: “We’ve been a marginal ward in recent years, but if Labour close our library, they won’t have any councillors around here.
“When there was risk of closure previously, an action group was formed and we have ended up supplying a third of the books in there.
“If the library closes, I can see the South Road area being decimated. The library brings people to the area. There are coffee mornings and lots of other activities. Schools go there and the annual Walkley Festival uses it for events.
“Also, the building was donated to the community, so the council would not be able to sell it. I don’t know what they would do with it.”
Mr Wilkinson said the forum has been trying to increase use of the library by organising coffee mornings and farmers’ markets.
He said residents would be prepared to step in and volunteer to keep it open.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, council opposition Liberal Democrat leader and member for Broomhill, said: “The council needs to come out and say which libraries it is planning to close. The consultation finished in October and it has still not confirmed precise details.”
However, Coun Bryan Lodge, council cabinet member for finance, would not reveal which libraries could be closed.
He said: “There is a reduction in the amount of money available for the library service and we need to look at how we can best configure the service for the public.
“That may mean some might be closed or we may ask third parties if they would be willing to run them.
“There will be some closure within the service, whether that be reduced hours or loss of buildings. We cannot afford the service which is currently provided.”
The council proposes to invite community groups to run libraries.
Coun Lodge said one example could be Zest, which already runs facilities such as the swimming pool in Upperthorpe, being asked if they wanted to run the area’s library.
The council could also look at merging public buildings and moving libraries into other council-owned properties.