Gloucestershire reads the riot act on library closures

Libraries across the UK have been fighting to keep their doors open in the face of funding cuts, but a new initiative started in Gloucestershire aims to reverse the trend.

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Almost 8,000 UK library jobs have disappeared in six years, according to a 2016 investigation by the BBC. This accounts for about a quarter of the overall total jobs in the library sector, with 343 libraries closing during the same time period.

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Around 15,500 new volunteers have been recruited to fill the gap in the workforce at ‘community libraries’, where there is no paid staff. They receive just £10,000 a year to keep the lights on.

In Gloucestershire, action is being taken to support its local libraries and encourage more people to visit. Unlike many other counties, all of Gloucestershire’s 39 libraries have remained open, with eight run by volunteers

As part of a new initiative, the David Vaisey Prize, four Gloucestershire libraries have been shortlisted to receive a grant to help them continue to offer vital services to their communities. Entries were received from 20 of the 39 libraries, each submitting an idea for a project that will get more people into reading.

Representatives from the 20 libraries gathered in the Lauds Room at Gloucester Cathedral this month to discover the shortlist. Bream, Longlevens, Brockworth, and joint entrants Tuffley and Matson libraries will now wait to find out which one will be awarded the top prize of £5,000 to fund their project, while the three runners-up will each receive £1,000.

Chaired by TV broadcaster Anne Robinson, the panel of judges had to choose from a creative selection of projects, such as the Community Hub by Brockworth Community Library. Its initiative provides a range of events and activities for young and older people, including tea and cake afternoons for seniors, story time for young parents with small children, Knit and Natter, a walking club, and regular reading sessions with teachers and pupils from the local school.

Anne Robinson told BBC Countryfile Magazine about the reception she received when she visited libraries around the county to see the projects. “I was so impressed with the reaction – people usually run for cover. It was a lesson in seeing how librarians are so used to the unexpected. Libraries are run on a shoestring by these passionate, enthusiastic people who go way beyond the job description.

“It’s a long time since I’ve been to a public library and I hadn’t realised that they’ve turned into community centres. Libraries are shouldering so much of what goes on in the community – helping the elderly and those who live alone – it’s wonderful what they do,” she says. “Goodness knows what would happen in a lot of those areas, for the elderly, mothers and babies, if they didn’t have a library. If any of them close, the impact will be devastating – you just can’t afford to close libraries.”

Bream Community Library has already increased its reach within the local community through its project to help children struggling with reading. “That’s obviously our key objective,” says Graham Clements, Director at Bream. “To get people to read and to learn. I think this prize is great for libraries in general and especially for community libraries like us, because it’s giving us more publicity. The library is central to our community. There’s not much else in Bream, apart from a Spar and a funeral director, so in terms of culture – we are the culture.”

The winner of the David Vaisey Prize will be announced at The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on 8th October.

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Image: Thousand Word Media/Anne Robinson with representatives from the shortlisted libraries at Gloucester Cathedral