UK's first public library threatened with closure

UK's first public library threatened with closure

Warrington Central Library, the first UK rate-supported library, is under the threat of closure.

In a bid to make £300,000 of savings, community interest company Livewire, which took over management of 11 Warrington libraries in 2012, has plans to close Warrington Central Library as well as libraries in Stockton Heath, Penketh, Lymm, Culcheth, Padgate, Burtonwood, Westbrook and Birchwood, according to the Warrington Guardian.

These services would be replaced by libraries inside large neighbourhood hubs and smaller wellbeing centres.

Warrington Central Library originally opened in 1848 as the first rate-supported library in the UK, before moving to its current premises in 1858. Rates were the local tax-raising system in place at the time.

A petition has been launched to save the libraries from closure. It currently has 5,801 signatures.

According to Livewire, the visitors to the library in 2015 were 139,284 which is a 33% fall from in 2010, when they numbered 208,179.

Children’s author Suzie W, who was born in Warrington, said in a blog post: “The central library in Warrington opened in 1848, the first public library in the country. It was also my first Saturday job, a buzzing place in the days when you checked out books using paper library cards and looked up information in card catalogues that took up the whole wall.

“As a writer and a reader, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to close a library. From a very early age my local branch has fueled my book addiction. With their help, I have discovered fantastic worlds, completed my homework, researched my family history, and surfed the internet. And I still borrow books: fiction books, cookery books, craft books, picture books for the grandchildren. It’s a fantastic place for author research too. Where else can you take everything home for free?"

However, Livewire insists that the central library will not close. Managing director, Emma Hutchinson told The Bookseller: “Warrington Central Library is not being closed.  The plans are to move it to a new location in the centre of town – less than a five minute walk from where it is now.  This will make the library more visible and more accessible for a larger number of people.

“We are very proud of having the first publicly funded library and as well as moving the existing library, this means we can better celebrate the borough’s heritage by investing in the creation of a heritage hub within the current library space.  There will also be a reference library that remains in the original building as well as access to computers, just as we have now.

"In relation to other libraries across the borough, we have simply released proposals for consultation.  Nothing is set in stone and we are inviting public feedback. However it is vital that we discuss the future of our libraries, as the way they are being used is changing significantly against a backdrop of wider central government cuts. We need to respond to this and examine the options.”

The organisation has opened a public consultation into the proposed changes which will run until 4th October.