INTERNATIONAL bestsellers Anne Fine, Philippa Gregory and Peter James have joined the fight to save Darlington’s Crown Street Library.

Comment: Sacrificing our libraries

Proposals to close the beloved Victorian library have shocked some of the world’s best known authors.

Madame Doubtfire author Anne Fine and Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, have accused Darlington councillors of using the library as a “soft target” for cuts.

In a strongly worded missive, Ms Fine – who lives in County Durham - said any councillor considering using the library as such “should know themselves for the defeatist, bureaucratic vandals they are”.

She predicted the closure of the historic Grade II listed building would leave councillors hanging their heads in shame for the rest of their lives.

Similarly passionate, North Yorkshire author Ms Gregory called upon the people of Darlington to do everything they can to defend the “beautiful library” where she spent years studying.

Crime writers Peter James and Len Tyler – chair of the Crime Writers Association - have joined the pair in underlining the vital importance of keeping libraries open in the community.

The renowned authors have warned of the consequences of losing the Grade II listed library, which was gifted to the town by Joseph Pease in 1883.

Under a programme of devastating budget cuts, Darlington Borough Council have proposed closing the Crown Street building and moving its resources to the Dolphin Centre. The smaller Cockerton library is also facing the axe along with the town’s mobile library, which serves 90 locations across the borough.

The proposals are part of a raft of £12.5m cuts Darlington Borough Council must make. It says a reduction in Government grant will mean it has lost a total of £44m from its budget by 2020.

Last week it approved to increase council tax by 3.99 per cent. The proposed cuts package will be far reaching - leaving 186 council staff facing redundancy.

Apart from the library service, the worst affected services will be social services, health, street cleaning grass cutting and children's services, with the closure of two children's centres. The council is also seeking to sell off the town's centrepiece Covered Market.

The Northern Echo:

ANNE FINE, who now lives in Barnard Castle, is the author of more than 50 children’s books, including Madame Doubtfire - which was made into the Hollywood blockbuster Mrs Doubtfire.

She believes the social consequences of closing Crown Street Library will inevitably cost more than it will save.

“I’m appalled at the notion of closing Darlington’s fine Victorian library and shunting what is bound to be a gravely diminished service to some other venue," said Anne, who was the second Children's Laureate and has won two Carneigie Medals for her books.

“In a time of cuts, waving shrouds is bound to look more dramatic than waving obsolete library cards.

“But with the closing of any important library, cultural life is irreparably damaged, and people’s lives horribly undermined.

“Next to the Health Service, our public libraries are our most loved and valued institutions, and the bedrock of aspiration, education, culture, reading pleasure, information and social mobility.

“As the American academic Harold Bloom once warned, ‘Culture is not a train: you can’t get off and on again as you choose.’ “It’s been shown over and over that the social consequences of any library closure inevitably cost more than the closure has saved, while the solace, richness and opportunity that libraries bring into our lives are carelessly thrown away.

“Councillors who can treat such a long-loved and respected (not to mention gifted) library as a soft target in these cuts should know themselves for the defeatist, bureaucratic vandals they are, and realise that, just like the infamous Dr Beeching, for the rest of their lives they will be hanging their heads in public shame.”

The Northern Echo:

HISTORIAN and best-selling author PHILIPPA  GREGORY, who lives on the North York Moors, is known as the ‘queen of British historical fiction’.

The author of books including The Other Boleyn Girl and The Taming of the Queen, spent time at Crown Street library while studying for her PhD.

She believes the potential closure of the library is a matter of great concern.

Ms Gregory said: “This is awful and, very much as I feared it would be, part of the grim austerity cuts this government has put in place.

“Until we can get these cuts reversed, we must do everything we can to make sure we do not lose anything like this.

“I love that library, it was a wonderful place to work, a lovely, old-fashioned setting with great resources in a beautiful building.

“It’s an absolutely typical example of Victorian Darlington at work and there’s not many examples of that left.

“The closure of this library would be of particular disgrace to the North-East, which has a strong tradition of self-education and an industrial investment in the education of the public.

The Northern Echo:
Darlington library's Victorian splendour. Picture: PETER GIROUX/NE CAMERA CLUB

“It is awful that this could happen and I hope people can defend their library if needs be.

“I want to live in a country which is scholarly and understands the value of literature and culture, which has the capacity for learning.

“For studious kids who don’t get support at home, libraries can be a complete lifeline.

“I don’t know any writer who does not have a story of having regularly attended their library.

“If you’re going to be a writer, you have an obvious need to read when you are young and that need often can’t be met by parents.”

She added: “When the government committed to these cuts, they affected the elderly, our children – there are so many things we cannot afford to cut yet we have to.

“The library is part of that and it is not an unimportant part - it is not a soft target, libraries are incredibly important.

“I’m sure the council is in a difficult place and if this is the best they can do, it is the best they can do.

“But it does not answer the problem of why they would let a beautiful building like that fall into disuse – if the council can possibly save it, it should be saved.

“I’d back any campaign to save it, I am genuinely seriously concerned about this awful shame.”

The Northern Echo:

PETER JAMES, author of the best-selling crime series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, said library closures across the country could impact on future generations.

He said: “Libraries have always played a vital role in our communities. “With the disappearance of independent bookstores from so many towns and cities, for millions of people in the UK today it is only in libraries where they can get informed opinions on both literature and non -fiction.

“Without libraries, who will give the new generations their passion for reading good books?”

The Northern Echo:

LEN TYLER, author and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, said: “Public libraries give unrivalled free access both to best sellers and little known gems.

“Each library closure reduces the opportunities for these interactions and the chance for people to discover great books.

“Though we understand the financial pressures that local authorities are now under, we deeply regret all proposals to scale back library services, especially in areas where libraries are already relatively scarce.”