CONCERNS have been raised over staffing levels at Bradford’s libraries after it emerged shortages led to services closing for over 266 hours in the past year.

Laisterdyke Library alone was shut for the equivalent of two weeks of timetabled opening hours over 12 months due to staff shortages.

Bradford Council admits that it is aware there is currently a staffing issue in its libraries, and is working to “minimise impact to customers.”

The issue was raised by Councillor Brendan Stubbs (Lib Dem, Eccleshill), when he noticed he was regularly receiving online notifications that his local library was having to shut early, or over lunch, because of staffing issues. He asked the Council for a breakdown of the scheduled opening hours libraries were shut in the past 12 months.

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Nine libraries have shut at some point during scheduled opening hours in that period.

The council says that they have to avoid library staff working alone, so if there are staff shortages a library may have to close early or to allow a staff member to take a lunch break.

Laisterdyke Library, which opens for 45 hours a week, lost 88 and a half hours due to staff shortages, and Manningham Library lost 73 hours.

Wyke Library lost 38.5 hours and Eccleshill Library lost 31. Bingley lost 13 and a half, the Keighley Local Studies Library five, Wibsey five and a half and Shipley one. Baildon, which is a hybrid library run by both staff and volunteers lost 10 hours due to a mix of staff shortages and a lack of volunteers, and hybrid library Clayton lost one and a half hours.

The figures come as Bradford Council is preparing to reduce its annual libraries budget by £950,000 in the upcoming 2019/20 financial year.

Last month a report into the Council’s library service said the cuts would “impact greatly on service provision” adding “Work is ongoing to identify a service that can be delivered with proposed budgets.”

Cllr Stubbs said: “They shouldn’t be advertising a library as open when it isn’t. If they can’t keep them open when they should be then that is something they have to deal with. What I worry about is when they are taking the best part of a million pounds out of the budget, there may have to be decisions whether to close libraries. If they do that they will look at footfall and number of books borrowed, and if people can’t get through the door then those figures are going to be low. People couldn’t get into Laisterdyke 90 hours of the year. Over the summer I had people telling me they had gone to the library only to see a not on the door, or to be told the library is about to close. It is like the death of a thousand cuts, if people can’t rely on a service they will stop using it.

“Libraries are not just places people go to borrow books, they are important facilities, especially in more deprived areas where people are more likely to have health problems or reading issues. People in areas like Manningham and Laisterdyke often live in crowded housing, libraries are places they can go to study in quiet, or old people can go to access services.

“There are much fewer services in communities these days, libraries are places people can access information and services. We should be doing everything we can to maintain our libraries. I don’t see why we think it’s ok for a library service to close now and then - it says to me there is a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Cilip, the library and information association, this week hosted an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting on the importance of public libraries. Spokesman Mark Taylor told the Telegraph & Argus: “There are so many areas where libraries help and support people. We want fair funding for local authorities, as they are currently under considerable financial pressure. People need to realise how valuable a contribution libraries make. You can look at footfall or book loans, but the real value of a library is the difference it makes in someone’s life. That is lost when a library has to close because of shortages or cuts. If people go to a library and find it isn’t open then that is a waste of a service.

“Libraries are a great place to offer a huge amount of services.”

A Council spokesperson said: “The majority of Bradford’s libraries operate six days a week and many open until 7pm. We currently have some staff vacancies within the service. The availability of casual staff to cover from time to time can be limited so occasionally libraries have had to close for short periods to accommodate lunch breaks and to avoid lone working, however we are aware of this issue and are working to minimise any impacts on our customers.”