UNISON has welcomed a BBC investigation that has drawn attention to the “extent of the damage” to the UK’s public library service since 2010.
The BBC revealed that almost 8,000 library jobs have disappeared in the past six years – about a quarter of the total – and 343 libraries have been closed. A further 111 closures are planned this year.
Another 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups, while 50 have been handed to external organisations to run.
In some areas, such and Lincolnshire and Surrey, the move has led to legal challenges and protests from residents.
And some 15,500 volunteers have been recruited to replace paid staff.
Renowned author Philip Pullman told the BBC: “I am in favour of volunteering, but relying on volunteers to provide a service that ought to be statutory is not a good policy.
“What next? Are we going to rely on volunteer teachers… because all the staffing levels in schools are going down?”
Commending the BBC report, UNISON assistant national officer Matthew Egan commented: “Not only have we seen many libraries close, but the service is being hollowed out through huge job losses and a significant increase in the use of volunteers.
“And libraries are having to cut back on the range of services they are able to offer, such as reading groups, CV workshops, baby bounce and rhyme time.”
In February UNISON organized a Westminster lobby, along with Speak Up For Libraries, a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff. UNISON members, librarians, library campaigners and authors urged their MPs to save libraries.
The union is also hosting a UK-wide seminar on 6 June to share best practice from branches on how to protect service, get a clear message on what support campaigners need from UNISON, and act as a springboard for a national campaign.
“We urge our library members to play a part in campaigning to protect this much-loved and vital public service,” Mr Egan said.
The BBC compiled data from 207 authorities responsible for running libraries, through the Freedom of Information Act.
Cuts to library services were deeper in England than the rest of the UK. In Scotland, 99 library jobs have been lost since 2010, with 262 in Wales and 203 in Northern Ireland.