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Literacy campaigner hits out at cuts to Birmingham's library service

Quality 'under threat' after council stops buying books in favour of public donations in latest bid to mitigate against budget cuts following decision to slash opening hours and reduce staffing

The Library of Birmingham, in Centenary Square.
The Library of Birmingham has been the subject of more negative headlines in recent weeks

One of Britain's top literacy campaigners has spoken of his fears about the "ongoing quality of library services" in Birmingham after it emerged the city was no longer buying books.

The Post reported last week that less than two years after the £189 million Library of Birmingham opened the city's library service was asking for books to be donated due to cutbacks.

The revelation prompted Nick Poole, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, to pen an open letter to council chief executive Mark Rogers.

He said while partnerships with Google, the British Library and the relocation of the Brasshouse Language Service were steps in the right direction, he was worried about ongoing services.

He wrote: "We have concerns about the ongoing quality of library services available to the communities and citizens of Birmingham.

"I understand that Birmingham City Council has to make significant savings but in doing so, I would make the case for properly resourced and staffed library services to be part of the solution.

"They play a crucial role providing access to information and knowledge, supporting small businesses and employment, improving health and well-being and providing everyone with opportunities for learning and developing new skills."

After cuts saw the Library of Birmingham's opening hours reduced to 40 per week, Coun Penny Holbrook, council cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, has been working to transform the flagging operation.

A tie-in with the British Library, a deal with Google to host a digital training base at the venue and the relocation of the Brasshouse Language Centre will mean it opens from 9am to 9pm on weekdays from next year.

But the core library service remains hampered by cutbacks, amid a £22 million-a-year bill largely down to interest on the development.

Mr Poole said libraries generate an economic return, claiming the national network of "business and intellectual property centres" which includes the Library of Birmingham, helped to create 1,692 new businesses and 4,178 jobs between 2013 and 2015.

The network created £38 million GVA, a payback of £4.50 for every £1 spent, he claimed.

He added: "The people of Birmingham are right to be proud of their library, and 2.7 million visitors in its first year is a clear demonstration of the library's popularity. We would like to see the best quality library services delivered through the fabulous building, services developed and managed by expert staff."

Coun Holbrook said: "We are continuing to look at how we secure the future of all our community libraries but whilst that is under way we need to make tough choices to save money."

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