A review of every library in Birmingham has begun in what is likely to result in the biggest shake-up in the service for decades.
The study, described as a “root and branch examination”, has been ordered by leisure cabinet member Martin Mullaney. He said a growing trend in obtaining information through the internet and a long-term slump in borrowing books made changes inevitable.
Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) said he could not guarantee that every community library would remain in its existing building, or that all 40 would survive.
It was possible Birmingham might end up with fewer libraries or, more likely, that locations would change to take advantage of modern, more appropriate buildings.
He was speaking after signing off a £200,000 cut in the Central Library’s £1.3 million book buying fund as part of a £5.4 million cuts package.
More than 130 jobs will also be lost as the council’s leisure department battles to turn around a £560,000 deficit. About 12 per cent of staff running parks, libraries, museums and sports centres are likely to be out of work by the end of the year. Most of the jobs in the £67 million department will go in the sports section, where 44 staff are at risk.
A restructuring of the parks department, with new working arrangements for wardens, is expected to save £1.2 million, a reorganisation of staffing in the museums service will save £271,000 and a libraries efficiency plan will realise £50,000.
Coun Mullaney told a scrutiny committee that the review would also consider the role to be played by the new £187 million Library of Birmingham, which is due to open in 2013.
“What is the future for our library service with increasing use of the internet and people borrowing fewer and fewer books?” he said.
The review will look at the true cost of running each library. Initial findings show huge variations in opening hours and use by customers.
His philosophy is already raising concerns among Conservative members of the council’s ruling Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition. Coun Philip Parkin (Con Sutton Trinity) said: “I fundamentally disagree. The main point of a library is about reading books.
“I don’t buy the argument that library use is declining because everyone is going on the internet.”
The leisure, sport and culture directorate is expected to bear a large part of the £230 million spending cuts the council plans to make by April 2014. Cabinet finance member Coun Randal Brew (Con Northfield) hinted last week that sensitive areas such as social services, housing and schools could expect some degree of protection with more of the savings to be found from other departments.