Fears for Preston’s libraries amid council cuts

Preston’s libraries could be under threat next week as the council finalises plans to cut staff.

At a cabinet meeting earlier this month, Lancashire County Council unveiled plans to reduce staff at public libraries by 16 per cent, as well as axing two of the county’s 11 mobile libraries.

Preston has 10 public libraries, as well as a mobile library that makes 39 stops every two weeks.

“What people want from the library has changed,” said Greg Bowen, a spokesman for the council, “as time goes on, it will be less about books and more about downloading stuff onto e-readers.”

College student Tony Catron, 19, said he used the Harris Library because his home computer was not working. “I go in every so often for computers, just to work in there,” he said, adding that it was helpful to have staff around the building to help with technical problems.

But Mr Bowen said more services could now be provided by self-service machines, which meant fewer staff would be employed to work behind the counter.

“There won’t be any closures, but there might be some reductions in hours,” he added.

Lauren Smith from the national campaign Voices for the Library said libraries should be looking at ways to widen access, not reduce it. She added: “Self-service machines shouldn’t be at the cost of paid staff.

“It’s not just about those who do use libraries, but those who don’t.”

Miss Smith said cutting front-line staff would discourage new library users who needed one-to-one help with things like job applications and literacy.

Mr Bowen, who works in the council’s Adult and Community Services department, said the savings would come from cutting the number of managers. But Miss Smith said management was important to make sure libraries could promote themselves and develop new services.

Cuts to libraries would impact the council’s targets in other areas, she added.

“Libraries are a way to help councils achieve their aims, such as improving employment and reducing anti-social behaviour,” she said.

In a report, the council said the budget cuts would save it nearly £2million. The plans will be finalised at the next cabinet meeting on Thursday February 3 before going to a meeting of the full council for approval later in the month.

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