It was reported last week that some libraries in Birmingham have “stopped buying books and newspapers” and are requesting donations from the public. Yet just two years earlier, the city had been celebrating the opening of the very shiny state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham which was built at a cost of £188 million. It is the largest civic library in Europe and also features a gallery, theatre, recording studio and extensive archives. However, it is the smaller libraries in the city where the requests have appeared, as the Library of Birmingham itself does not accept donations.
Birmingham city councillor Penny Holbrook said: “whilst we have not corporately asked for donations from the public and this is the action of a few libraries, we do of course welcome any support the public wish to give our community libraries and the council in general. However, we do not expect the public to make up for cuts to the budget from the government.” Requests for new purchases are still being examined “on a case-by-case basis” and the Library of Birmingham is continuing to purchase special collection books such as large print and some non-fiction titles.
Cuts to libraries haven’t just hit Birmingham. Many libraries across the country have reduced their budgets for purchasing new books as part of wider cost-cutting efforts. However, this is the first time I’ve come across a self-imposed book-buying ban (or “pause”) until further notice alongside requests for public donations.
Given the financial difficulties facing libraries over the last few years, I’m a little bit surprised that this hasn’t happened sooner and more widely across the country. I don’t know how many books Birmingham libraries have received so far since putting out the appeal but I think it’s likely that there will be a strong response from the public and it could lead to more varied collections of books, particularly in smaller libraries. On the other hand, Birmingham City Council is looking to make savings of over £100 million this year and cutting the annual book fund reported to be around £1 million is a relatively small drop in the ocean which may not help prevent more closures in the long-term.
No matter what type of building it is, a library isn’t a library without adequate resources, which includes both books and knowledgeable staff. Unfortunately, it seems to be already too little too late for the Library of Birmingham which has cut its opening hours and made around half of the original 188 library staff redundant less than two years after opening.
What do you think? Should libraries stop buying books? Which books would you donate to your local library?