Birmingham libraries beg public for books

Council 'pauses' book fund

The poster asking for donations

Just two years after spending £183 million on a new state-of-the-art library, Birmingham City Council is begging the public for books.

Posters have been going up in branch libraries round the city asking for people to donate new and recently-published books - as the council is going to 'pause' its book fund, and isn't going to buy them itself.

The £183 million Library of Birmingham was opened in September 2013 to great fanfare - it was billed as 'the library of the future'. Just a year later, though, budget cuts meant it had to shorten its opening hours and lay off 100 staff. It's now open for only 40 hours a week, including just six hours at weekends.

A picture of the posters, posted on Twitter by BBC reporter Kathryn Stanczyszyn, has attracted outrage from authors including S J Watson, Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Coe. And campaign group Friends of the Library of Birmingham agrees, saying the council has had its priorities wrong.

"It is a scandal that there has been huge public investment in a building which is now not fulfilling its intended purpose," says a spokesperson.

"The citizens of Birmingham are saddled with a massive £12 million per year debt repayment (to the private sector, naturally) and at the same time are finding it harder and harder to obtain their services, which should have been housed in the building."

The council has defended its decision.

"We have never had a situation where we have bought every book suggested to us and at the moment we need to examine all requests for new purchases on a case by case basis depending on demand. We have always made choices about which books to buy, but clearly we need to be careful and buy those books that are most needed," says Birmingham City Council cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, Penny Holbrook.

"Whilst we have not corporately asked for donations from the public and this is the actions 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."

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