Cleeves 'furious' at Newcastle library plans

Author Ann Cleeves has described herself as "furious" over Newcastle City Council's plans to close 10 libraries, in a written piece commissioned from the author by New Writing North.

The reading and writing agency has asked five writers from the North East, including crime writer Cleeves and children's author David Almond, to produce works celebrating the importance of libraries in their community in the light of the council's plans to close over half of its 18 libraries.

Fiona Evans, Mari Hannah and Michael Chaplin are the other writers commissioned, with each visiting one of the libraries earmarked for closure, and describing the experiences of the staff and users there. The pieces will be posted on www.letstalklibraries.com.

Cleeves visited Cruddas Park Library in a deprived area of Newcastle. In her piece, she wrote: "I was angry about the closure of Newcastle's libraries before I spent time at Cruddas Park: now I'm furious."

She describes the library as a place of "civilisation and courtesy, where customer service isn't a glib phrase dreamt up by marketeers", and describes different users of the library, from disadvantaged people using the computers to stay in touch with a son in the army, to a partially sighted man who has been using the building since it opened in the 1960s.

Cleeves wrote: "We shouldn't be planning to close Cruddas Park but to develop it. In communities like this, libraries provide people's only access to the arts. So let's use these safe, welcoming spaces to introduce people to poetry, music and drama as well as to books."

As well as proposing to close 10 libraries, Newcastle City Council has also planned to scrap its art and culture budget entirely as it looks to make savings.

New Writing North said: "The hope is that these pieces will show Newcastle council the value of our libraries, and encourage them to re-think their proposals. If the council goes ahead with the closures, these five people will have captured a moment in history, leaving a legacy and celebrating a time when we valued reading, education and accessibility to knowledge for all."

The Save Newcastle Libraries Coalition is holding a rally on proposed cuts tomorrow (9th January) at 7pm in the Assembly Rooms in Fenkle Street, Newcastle.

Read Ann Cleeves' full speech.