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Sheffield Libraries SOS: New petition calls for end to volunteer-led libraries

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A new petition has been launched calling for Sheffield City Council to rethink their decision to cut funding to 16 of the 28 Council-run libraries in 2014.

The Council currently maintains 12 libraries, employing full-time staff and keeping a citywide database of available books. Others are maintained by 16 separate charity organisations, most of which employ a volunteer-led staff team to run their facilities.

Last month Matthew Smith launched Sheffield Libraries SOS, a Facebook group arguing that all council-run libraries should be reinstated, loan fines should be abolished and libraries across the city should be refurbished.

The original library system needs to be reinstated

"There's the informal help that libraries give to people that are having mental health illnesses, the opportunity to speak to a trusted member of library staff to get signposted to other services, or just some advice," Smith told Now Then.

"There is reading poverty as well, when you have some kids whose parents can't afford to help them learn to read, they are reliant on public libraries. You could go on forever."

A petition to ask councillors to consider these arguments was opened shortly after. The petition has collected 90 signatures since its launch on 1 February, and will close on 31 March.

On 3 March the Council announced a £9 million plan to make urgent repairs to the Central Library on Surrey Street. Between 2010 and 2015 the amount of money the Council received from central government reduced by 50% according to the RSA.

Statistics found by Sheffield Libraries SOS suggest children in areas of Sheffield with volunteer-led libraries are attaining worse grades than the citywide average. This, Smith says, is one of the most important reasons the original library system needs to be reinstated.

He added that the abolition of library fines is another vital way to get people using their library services.

"One of the things that's discouraging people, the poorest people, from using libraries most would be the cost of the library fines. So, it is getting those, the most vulnerable groups in society, to use libraries."

Central government requires that local councils maintain some libraries in their areas. Sheffield City Council meet this requirement, paying full-time library workers in twelve council-run facilities.

However, Smith says other cities in the north of England have not faced as many closures as Sheffield.

The funding allocated to volunteer-led libraries in Sheffield will run out at the end of the year, another reason Smith wants to get councillors talking about the issue as soon as possible.

As this article was published, Sheffield City Council announced that every library across the city will receive an additional one-off cash boost of £10,000.

Alex Keene

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