Urgent plea to ‘use Sheffield libraries or lose them’ as volunteer centres show declines

Volunteers running Ecclesfield Library in Sheffield
Linda Rees, Lynda Harper, Wendy Watkinson, Sam Kendall Joan Travis and Maureen Lambert who keep the library open
Volunteers running Ecclesfield Library in Sheffield Linda Rees, Lynda Harper, Wendy Watkinson, Sam Kendall Joan Travis and Maureen Lambert who keep the library open
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A call to action has been issued to Sheffield – support your local library or risk consigning it to the history books.

A call to action has been issued to Sheffield – support your local library or risk consigning it to the history books.

Volunteers running Ecclesfield Library in Sheffield
Joan Travis looks afetr the childrens section

Volunteers running Ecclesfield Library in Sheffield Joan Travis looks afetr the childrens section

New figures obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request reveal book lending at almost all volunteer-run libraries is falling.

But most of Sheffield’s council-run libraries have shown a year-on-year increase in book lending – after a big slide in 2014 – suggesting the service is beginning to recover.

Ecclesfield Library volunteer Joan Travis, aged 68, today warned: “It’s a case of use them or lose them.”

The figures show that across all 28 Sheffield libraries, 17 loaned out fewer books in January 2016 than in January 2015.

Southey Library Volunteers

Southey Library Volunteers

During the same period 11 increased their lending.

It comes after all 28 lent fewer books in 2014.

And of the 17 which went down again, 15 were volunteer-run.

The worst declines were at volunteer-run Ecclesfield, which fell 39 per cent, and council-run Woodseats, which was down 90 per cent.

The volunteer libraries which increased were Broomhill, up 7.9 per cent, and Upperthorpe, which went up 14 per cent.

Ecclesfield Library volunteer Joan Travis, aged 68, said: “If people don’t start using them, they are going to lose a lot of them.”

But she said the numbers do not take into account donated books which are not part of the council’s figures, or the importance of a library to its users beyond book loans.

She added: “A library is very important to a community. It’s a meeting place as well and the centre of a community. We have a lot of groups who use the space.

“People donate books and we use a yellow sticker system for these, which aren’t counted on the figures.”

But she warned the library relies heavily on donations to keep going, adding: “We need to make money to keep the place open. We sell any books that we already have.” Southey Library volunteer Dean Platts said: “It is not just about book loans. We use this library a lot for education. We have classes for adults – some of them couldn’t read a book when they started and now they are checking out adult books.

“We have a lot of people use the internet here and look for jobs.”

A spokesman for protest group Sheffield Communities Against Library Privatisation said: “It comes down to the council libraries providing the service that library users actually want from a library: to trust in the staff, their knowledge and their professional approach.

“It probably shows that full, truly independent and publicly accountable review, involving the whole of the city, is needed to assess library provision in the city and why it’s been allowed to reach the state it’s in.

“It seems to show that we can have a great library service when it’s run as an actual library service, rather than a cobbled together volunteer ‘free for all’.

“Also, the council libraries’ opening hours were cut in 2014, so people may have now adjusted their usage of the professionally run libraries to adjust to the new hours.”

But the figures may not take into account donated books which are not part of the council’s figures, says Bob Mynor, Library trustee for Stannington Library.

He said: “For Stannington Library, the fall is recorded as 25 per cent, but when all the books loaned through the Stannington Collection, our own local lending system, are taken into account, the drop is only nine per cent.

“The Stannington Collection consists of books donated by the local community, or purchased through fund-raising by library volunteers. The rate of lending from the collection is climbing steadily and there is every reason to believe the fall in loans will continue to slow in Stannington, and even, in time, reverse.”

Bob also praised local people who rallied round to save libraries from closure.

He said: “Since we began managing the library, local people have rallied round in many ways to ensure their library stays open and relevant to the community it serves.

“Not only did a team of volunteers come forward to keep the doors open at the library, but local people have also donated a large number of good quality, nearly-new books that are now proving extremely popular with borrowers.

“We never issued any formal appeal for donations, and yet we have received enough to set up The Stannington Collection exclusively with titles new to our library. They are integrated with the rest of the stock but are counted through a different system, and they are flying off the shelves.

“There is every reason to believe that we can expect to turn the figures round and start to increase instead of decline. This is much better than the position would have been if the library had been allowed to close. Lending figures then would have been zero.”

COUNCIL-RUN

Chapeltown 19% UP after 15% drop the year before

Central Lending 6.5% DOWN after 15% drop the year before

Crystal Peaks 2% UP after 15% drop the year before

Darnall 10.2% UP after 16.6% down the year before

Ecclesall 9.8% UP after 21% drop the year before

Firth Park 3% DOWN after 23% drop the year before

Hillsborough 2.8% UP after 18% drop the year before

Highfield 24.8% UP after 25% drop the year before

Manor 4.9% UP after 7% drop the year before

Parson Cross 5.5% UP after 15.7% drop the year before

Stocksbridge 5.5% UP after 18.75% drop the year before

Woodseats 89.8% DOWN after 14% drop the year before

VOLUNTEER-RUN

Broomhill 7.9% UP after a 14% drop the year before

Burngreave 25% DOWN after a 14% drop the year before

Ecclesfield 39% DOWN after 41% drop the year before

Frecheville 7.4% DOWN after 44% drop the year before

Gleadless 11% DOWN after 53% drop the year before

Greenhill 10% DOWN after 33% drop the year before

Jordanthorpe 37% DOWN after 51% drop the year before

Newfield Green 32% DOWN after 40% drop the year before

Park 24% DOWN after 16% drop the year before

Southey 3.47% DOWN after 53% drop the year before

Stannington 25% DOWN after 38% drop the year before

Tinsley 27% DOWN after 30% drop the year before

Totley 26.1% DOWN after 22% drop the year before

Upperthorpe 14% UP after 43% drop the year before

Walkley 24.7% DOWN after 23% drop the year before

Woodhouse 5% DOWN after 45% drop the year before