BOOKWORMS and literature lovers in Darlington have been dealt a huge blow with the announcement that both the town’s libraries are set to close.

The landmark Crown Street building and the smaller Cockerton library both face the axe, along with the town’s mobile library which currently serves 90 locations across the borough.

The council plans to sell off the Crown Street library and reinvest the money into the Civic Theatre, which has escaped the cull.

The Northern Echo: AXED: Cockerton library. Picture by Stuart Boulton

AXED: Cockerton library. Picture by Stuart Boulton

A new library will be created in The Dolphin Centre, with the Registrar’s Service, which currently operates from the leisure centre, being moved to the Town Hall to create space for the new facility.

Shocked library staff were told of the proposals at a meeting in Crown Street on Thursday (February 4) and about 35 face redundancy.

John Dean, chairman of the town’s voluntary pro-arts and culture group, Darlington for Culture, said he was dismayed by the news.

He said: “We remain to be convinced that creating some kind of library in The Dolphin Centre will come anywhere near to replacing what’s been lost.

“And at a time when it’s National Libraries Day on Saturday, it really is a very worrying development.”

His views were echoed by Emma Rose of children’s literacy charity Beanstalk who said: “Libraries provide an escape for everyone especially children who need space to learn.

“Many children do not have any books at home and depend on their local libraries to find books to fire their imaginations.”

Mr Dean also questioned why the council was diverting money from Crown Street library into the Civic Theatre and called on the authority to “re-examine” its decision to dismantle the services.

He added: “This is a social service. Both the libraries in Cockerton and Crown Street and the mobile library are used by thousands and thousands of people.

“They’re an integral part of people’s lives and I just think as a town, closing your libraries puts out the wrong message.”

Mr Dean added that the probability of having such a large historic building as the Crown Street library standing empty in the middle of the town ‘puts out a poor message and gives Darlington a poor reputation’.

Descendants of Edward Pease, who gifted the library to the town in the 1800s, will be involved in discussions over the library’s sale, according to a council report.

Meanwhile, the closure of the Crown Street library also means an uncertain future for the Local Studies service currently operating in the building.

The service, which offers residents access to historic civic documents and has been integral in Darlington heritage projects, is having its council funding cut in half to £30,000.

Budget papers state that plans to deliver the service from the new library inside The Dolphin Centre have yet to be fully developed but it is likely that there will be less open access for users and it may have to adopt an appointment system for certain facilities.