FOR some years, as a child, my family lived in a quiet Yorkshire village with few facilities beyond a pub, a butcher’s, a post office and, strangely, a second-hand bike shop.

After a gap of nearly 20 years, I passed through it recently and noticed that only the pub remained.

The one temporary service it provided, about which I was unable to ascertain whether it was still running, was a mobile library. Back in the late ’sixties, it was the centre of my world.

I would, no doubt, be accused of being “geeky” or a “nerd” if I was 10 years old today and admitted that I literally couldn’t wait until the big van stuffed with books lumbered into view every Wednesday.

I was always first in the queue when it pulled up and couldn’t resist studying its shelves until it had to leave, even though the book I’d ordered the previous week was ready for me when the doors opened.

I’d encountered the joy of independent reading at the age of about five and I’m pleased to say it has never left me.

What’s more, I’d also found the joy of libraries as a place of infinite discovery and wonder and when my parents eventually moved I joined the nearest local library (thankfully just 15 minutes’ walk away) immediately.

I continued to use libraries, mostly for reference and research, as a student and as a young journalist for many years.

Sadly, I now can’t remember the last time I visited a public library for any purpose.

Like many people, I was lucky enough to reach a point when I could afford to buy the books I wanted to read and most of my research in the last couple of decades (outside of the newspaper library) has been online.

I suspect this experience is similar to many people’s, which is a major reason why library visitor and book borrowing numbers generally have been in steady decline.

According to a report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport earlier this year, the number of adults who had visited a public library in the 12 months to the end of September 2016 had fallen to 33.8 per cent compared to 48.2 per cent a decade earlier.

Those figures have made it easier for local authorities to put public libraries in the front line of public expenditure cuts and campaigners argue that the decline in library services is now one of the main factors contributing to the fall in numbers.

And the cuts go on. Earlier this week, it emerged that Kirklees Council is carrying out another review of its library service even though £1.8 million has already been cut from the department’s budget in the last two years.

Further cuts of £1.9 million are on the table, which would leave an annual budget of £2.2 million, less than half the cash available in 2015.

The proposals have raised fears that Cleckheaton’s library could be under threat, according to town councillor Kath Pinnock.

“It’s so short-sighted to reduce the library service further,” she said. “They should be looking at innovative and imagination ways to move forward.”

Joint cabinet member for resources, Cllr Graham Turner, said: “We know that there are many people who are keen to have their say on the subject of libraries. It is very emotive and the service has already changed massively in the last few years.”

One of the reasons library closures are so controversial is that they disproportionately affect minorities and disabled people.

The DCMS report showed that, although a smaller number of the less well-off used libraries, use by minorities and disabled people was proportionally higher than in the rest of the population.

In all, 43.9 per cent of black and minority ethnic adults used public libraries, compared to 32.4 per cent of white adults and 35.3 per cent of disabled adults used them, compared to 33.2 per cent of the able-bodied.

It’s not just about adults, though: that sense of wonder I discovered as a child is in danger of being denied to those who may well benefit the most from it. Children from poorer families have the most to gain from the availability of free services on their doorstep.

Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals, says: “Libraries are not an indulgence. They can have a transformative power – especially for those marginalized, disenfranchised, alone, or simply open a world of stories and imagination to readers young and old.”

Children’s author Alan Gibbons says: “It is not just picking up a book. It is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing, comparing what you have read with family and friends.”

Research by The National Literacy Trust shows that children who read above the expected level for their age are twice as likely to be public library users, are twice as likely to read outside of school and twice as likely to say they enjoy reading.

Tellingly, however, of those young people who don’t use a library, more than 52 per cent say it’s because their family don’t go to one.

And, surely, that situation can only get worse if the closure of small local libraries continues?

Many local authorities, like Bradford, have turned to volunteers and relocating libraries to smaller premises as a means of keeping some of them open.

But The Library Campaign, a national charity set up in 1984 to support community library groups and campaign for improved services in public libraries, believes it is a stopgap measure doomed to failure.

Its chair, Laura Swaffield, says: “The commitment of volunteers is wholly admirable, but the result is that, as a country, we have been left without a coherent library service and we have seen no real attempt to find out how well community-run libraries work.”

In article in The Guardian she wrote that a report by the Government-funded libraries taskforce had been unable to draw firm conclusions because there were no common standards or structures: “The whole point was to provide a standard service nationwide.

“But that has now gone. It is now pot luck whether your local library is a full service, or instead, some nice people with cast-off books donated by other nice people. Or something – almost anything – in between.

“There’s no way to tell if this ramshackle provision can survive.”

If it doesn’t, and unless the rot stops soon, the impact on our children’s futures – let alone their imagination and sense of wonder – could be unthinkable.