Fears stack up for Sheffield’s community libraries

Granville Wilkinson, pictured at  Walkley Library,
Granville Wilkinson, pictured at Walkley Library,

CONCERNS are being raised for some of Sheffield’s 27 community libraries as the council prepares to announce the findings of a review.

Branches could be closed, relocated or have their hours reduced in line with big budget cuts. In some cases, community groups will be asked to help run them.

Libraries most at risk are where there are others nearby, and with good public transport links, which puts the likes of Frecheville and Crystal Peaks, and Broomhill, Upperthorpe, Walkley and Hillsborough, potentially in the firing line.

However, Broomhill would be a highly contentious move, with community representatives having campaigned for years for an alternative to the existing premises in Taptonville Road.

Libraries such as Tinsley, the least used in the city, could be spared because the nearest branches, at Darnall or Firth Park, are not easy to travel to.

The whole issue is likely to be one of the most controversial in the upcoming announcements on council spending cuts.

One community group which fought to save its local library from closure 20 years ago is preparing a fresh battle.

Walkley 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, who chairs Walkley Community Forum, 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 that the community forum has been trying to increase use of the library by organising a coffee morning and farmers’ market.

Residents would be prepared to step in and volunteer to keep it open, he added.

Opposition Liberal Democrat leader and Broomhill councillor Shaffaq Mohammed said: “The council needs to come out and say which libraries it is planning to close. The consultation was finished in October and it has still not confirmed precise details.”

Coun Bryan Lodge, Labour cabinet member for finance, 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 that 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.”