CONCERNS have been raised that the opening hours of the Old Town Library are set to be reduced once the Arts Centre is handed over to private hands.
On April 1, HQ Theatres, which runs the Wyvern Theatre, will take over the Arts Centre as part of the town’s leisure programme, although the library will remain in council control.
As it stands the library is open for 38 hours a week, with 18 of those hours staffed at the council’s expense.
However, HQ Theatres will be reducing the hours the box office is open so the building will be left unstaffed for a period of time, meaning the library will not be able to open.
This has led to a furious reaction from users of the library, but council leaders have said they will seek to provide increased staffing while a full town-wide consultation on libraries is carried out.
Shirley Burnham, of the action group Save the Old Town Library, said: “The main reason we moved there in the first place was so it could be open for all the 38 hours.
“If it is reduced it will be a terrible loss to people who use this vital service.
“Library users are pretty distraught about losing 20 hours of access.
“Old Town Library opening hours are currently publicly advertised on the council’s website as 38 per week.
“It is disingenuous to pretend that these are in effect 18 hours and the rest is an informal arrangement with the Arts Centre.”
The level of concern is shared by ward councillor Nadine Watts (Lab, Old Town), who said: “I am really concerned about the fact that the Old Town library’s opening hours look set to reduce by half.
“I do appreciate the Cabinet’s position was that the library’s staffed opening hours was 18 hours.
“However, for Old Town library users, they have had more access to the library because it has been part of a community hub within the Arts Centre.
“Some library users have said they feel betrayed by the fact that they were told things would not be much different with the Arts Centre under different operational management, however this clearly will not be the case with the current proposals.”
A town-wide consultation is currently being carried out to decide the future of the town’s libraries in the face of reduced funds.
Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw), the cabinet member for libraries, said: “The council is not in any way reducing the number of staff at the libraries. In fact we are increasing them so the library will be open for the same number of hours.
“We are committed very much to Swindon libraries.”
Details of the consultation and how to participate can be found at www.swindon.gov.uk/librarystrategy