Express & Star

Nine Walsall libraries close for good amid cut backs

Nine libraries were closing today sparking anger from campaigners

Walsall Central Library

A town centre library is to undergo a multi-million pound major revamp as nine others shut their doors for good.

Walsall's central library, on Lichfield Street, will undergo £4 million of restoration and renovation work after council bosses signed off on the scheme.

But the work comes as the cash-strapped council closed the doors of nine other libraries in the borough today, leaving just seven left open having previously boasted 16.

Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pelsall, Pleck, Pheasey, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood libraries all closed as the council looks to save £86 million by 2020.

Pelsall Library, based at this centre, are among those to close

Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston, Streetly (which will be community run) and Willenhall remain open alongside the central library, where the renovation work will begin this summer.

The idea of the work is to redesign the library to become a hub, incorporating the local history centre and archive as well as offering a cafe, ICT lounge and free wifi, among others.

Diane Fisher, aged 53, who lives in Walsall Wood, used the library there regularly but will now have to use services in Brownhills.

Diane Fisher gives the closure of Walsall Wood Library the thumbs down

She said: "I use the library quite a lot and do regret that its closing. I know we will the library at Brownhills but this is just useful because its so close to where we live. I'm sad to see it is closing."

Councillor Sean Coughlan, the leader of Walsall Council said: "I’m really excited about this project and hope local people are too. The principle behind redesigning the library service is to make it a service that is flexible, sustainable and most importantly, fit for the 21st century.”

“We plan to retain an on-site library presence whilst the works are ongoing but at times, to ensure the safety of the public, an alternative option may be considered so that a town centre library can continue during the works programme.

“We have confirmed that Streetly will become a Community Library and have welcomed a strong interest from volunteers to augment the service at this Library. So far we have selected some 27 volunteers and are currently undertaking training and induction for them."

Speaking on the closure of the nine libraries councillor Coughlan added: "My cabinet had to make some tough decisions earlier this year to balance the council’s finances. There is no budget available to keep the nine libraries listed for closure open."

It is hoped the work on the central library will be completed in the Spring next year.

Walsall Council says its redesigned central library will offer visitors 'far more than the current building' and will bring 'vibrant new life to a tired facility'. The local history centre and archive, which is being moved from its Essex Street site to help cash-strapped Walsall Council make much needed savings, will be based in the space once occupied by the EM Flint Art Gallery.

Other additions to the library including a learning resource centre and jobs and skills development resources.

The council hopes to extend the opening hours at the library given its new 'hub' status.