'Pre-emptive' strike over Newcastle library closures

Newcastle City Library Newcastle's "super library", which opened in June 2009, is not thought to be at risk

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Dozens of children's authors have called upon Newcastle City Council not to cut its library services.

Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, and children's laureate Julia Donaldson are the signatories to an open letter protesting against planned closures.

Co-ordinator Alan Gibbons described the move as a "pre-emptive strike".

The council is proposing to get rid of 10 of its 18 branches as part of budget cuts but said it would still offer a "good quality comprehensive service".

A detailed announcement will be made soon, but the council said it had to make savings of £7m from its library, leisure, culture and customer service area.

It plans to retain a "core network" of eight facilities, including the city centre "super library".

More than 50 people have so far put their name to the open letter, which author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons has described as a "shot across the bows".

'Draconian cuts'

He said: "We've discovered through experience that you have to respond quickly even when full announcements haven't been made."

The campaign involved authors because "no-one can bully us or tell us what to think.

"Our lifestyle also means we're available at odd times."

The letter reads: "We are authors, many of whom have attended the Northern Children's Book Festival and other events in the region over many years.

"We are therefore appalled to hear that council leaders are planning draconian cuts to the city's libraries.

"It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts."

'Best use of assets'

Tony Durcan, director of libraries and lifelong learning at Newcastle City Council, said that libraries remained essential but there had to be changes and its new plans would be "affordable and accessible".

He said: "By making the best possible use of our assets, nearly every resident will still be within 1.5 miles of a library.

"Many of our libraries will remain open, operating in the same building as other shared community services like customer service centres and shared housing schemes and we hope others will stay open through the support and goodwill of local residents."

Elsewhere on Tyneside, Gateshead Council has put forward plans for a public consultation for five of its 17 libraries to be run by volunteers, in a move aimed at cutting costs.

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