Star comment: Plight of library is a timely reminder

The plight of Bishop's Castle Library should serve as a reminder to people across the county.

Star comment: Plight of library is a timely reminder

Services are being reduced as part of a wider £1.3 million cut in Shropshire Council's libraries budget.

They are unlikely to be the last reductions to public services during the next five years. George Osborne has challenged his cabinet to find £20 billion more savings, accounting for between 25 and 40 per cent of departmental budgets.

The savings made at Bishop's Castle Library are a drop in the ocean. However, the impact they will have is vast. Libraries are particularly important in rural areas. They provide community cohesion, a space for people to meet and they also supply IT equipment to those without access to it.

They improve numeracy and literacy through tailored reading. They also help to tackle unemployment, support local businesses and empower those who use them as centres of learning.

Libraries do much more, however. Libraries – and reading – create a sense of empathy. They encourage us to feel by putting us in touch with our emotions. They help us to become more compassionate. They also provide us with knowledge in the information age.

Of course, there are no economic data systems that show the value of our libraries. While accountants can compute the value of, say, a new road or HS2, equations to show the value of libraries are not so easily found.

Shropshire Council is between a rock and hard place. It simply does not have enough money to go round.

In the case of Bishop's Castle Library – and others around the county – it is faced with having to reduce opening hours to make the required savings. There is, however, an alternative. There is a widespread acceptance of the need to innovate if public services are to be maintained. In this case, a social enterprise could take responsibility for the library's long-term future.

We know that the age of handouts has long since passed. But all is not lost if communities can find a way of preserving the most important public services. The public will have the chance to speak out during the consultation: to miss out on the chance to get involved would be a real opportunity missed.

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