Scores of authors, including Neil Gaiman, Ali Sparkes, Pauline Rowson and Philip Hoare, have signed an open letter to Hampshire County Council calling for it to ditch its "shameful" proposal to close 10 libraries.
The local authority announced on 9th January that it was consulting on shutting the facilities in a bid to save £1.76m from its libraries budget. Remaining libraries could also see their opening hours slashed under the scheme and four community-run venues could shut if they don’t find a new funding model.
A letter organised by writer James McConnachie and signed by 40 Hampshire-based authors warns the options being proposed would be "disastrous" for local communities. A Twitter account for the authors, Hampshire Authors for Libraries, has also been set up.
Their letter states: "We are authors who live, work or were brought up in Hampshire. Libraries are where we learned about books, and where we learned to love them – they are where everyone who reads learns to love books. They are the magical open door at the back of the wardrobe, a door that is open to every child, from every background – and every adult too.
"Now that 1 in 8 schools do not have a library at all, public libraries are all the more vital. And libraries are about far more than books and literacy. They are havens, refuges and gateways, the vibrant hearts of the towns and villages they serve. A library is a place where a community comes together, from toddlers enjoying rhyme time to older visitors finding a place to browse and meet friends – and of course people simply wanting to borrow a good book, for free.
"An open library is proof that we value community and culture. A closed library is a sign of a society – and a county council – that is turning its back on both. We urge Hampshire County Council to reverse this shameful decision."
McConnachie told The Bookseller: "So many of us discovered our love of books in a library – and the thing about love is that it is generous. You want to share it. This decision by Hampshire County Council is the very opposite. It is about keeping people out, restricting access to culture, shutting down communities. It is backward-looking, closed-minded, and frankly disastrous.
"Conservative Councillor Séan Woodward, executive member for recreation and heritage, who is leading the scheme, has talked about 'libraries in sad buildings, not being well used' as if this was justification for further cuts. It is not, it is something he and his administration should be ashamed of.
"To close a library is to say we do not value culture, we do not value community, we do not want to give children a chance. We will put pressure on Hampshire County Council until they think again."
Woodward said yesterday only those libraries deemed least efficient would be considered for closure, identifying a list of 10.
He said: "We remain absolutely committed to providing a high-quality library service, fit for the future, that responds to a new generation of library customers. Therefore, we feel the right thing to do is focus the resources we have on where they will be of most benefit—to make the library service relevant in a way that will improve the literacy, life chances and wellbeing of Hampshire residents."