Star comment: Libraries a challenge for groups
Whenever a council is looking to save money it is not long before its bosses start turning their attention to the library service.
It has happened time and time again. Hours have been cut and in some cases small branches are a shadow of what they once were.
There is the proverbial good news and bad news for the council-run library service in Shropshire. The good news is that under new Shropshire Council proposals many libraries will be immune from council cuts. The bad news is that this will be because these libraries will no longer be a council-run service.
Having cut into the flesh, and then into the bone, there are no more cuts that can be made. So the council is looking to say thanks for the memories, and goodbye to many libraries.
It is hoping to see all of its 22 libraries, except those in the main six market towns, transferred to community groups.
It is a plan which raises many questions. Libraries do not make money and are not meant to make money. If you were to look at them from a business standpoint, they are a hopeless case.
They are a service, pure and simple, intended to improve and extend the lot of ordinary Salopians by giving them access to books and services which they might not otherwise have.
Many Salopians will understandably be deeply unhappy about what is being proposed. Libraries are symbolic of our attitude towards learning and education.
On the other hand some of those who will be complaining will not have been in their library for years. Libraries have adapted and modernised. They are not just places of books, but the world of the internet has changed the game.
The trend has been to make them part of "hubs", where they benefit from increased footfall. The new library in Telford's Southwater development is an example and, judging by the reaction of people who use it, has found a way in which a library can remain relevant, attractive, and accessible in a changing world.
Shropshire Council is looking for community organisations to run some libraries. Presumably that will mean a heavy reliance on local volunteers with the good of their community at heart.
Will Salopians come forward to give their libraries the kiss of life?
A chapter in Shropshire history looks like coming to a close – and there's no guarantee of a happy ending.
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