UK libraries fall victim to funding cuts amid pandemic. Image Source: IANS News

London, Dec 27 : The total funding for libraries in the UK was down by nearly 20 million pounds ($27 million) in the year to March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Falls in funding were matched by drops in borrowing, with budgets for next year set to fall by an average of 14 per cent, Xinhua news agency quoted a report by the Guardian newspaper as saying.

Librarians warned about the impact of the cuts, particularly in the face of the pandemic, during which many branches have increased ebook availability and online services to meet demand.

Cuts, they believe, would inevitably have an impact on the people who need libraries most, estimating that England alone faced a funding gap of 4 million pounds due to the increased demand for libraries in 2020.

For many, libraries are more than just a resource, they also hold an important cultural and historical place in British communities. Chetham's Library in Manchester is a fine example.

Chetham's has been in continuous use as a public library for more than 350 years. It is housed in a beautiful sandstone building dating from 1421.

The library has welcomed the likes of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US; Celia Fiennes, an English traveller and writer; and Charles Dickens, a famous British novelist, journalist and editor.

Chetham's is also well-known for an oak desk in its reading room that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had used during 1840s while exploring the condition of the working class.

Perhaps often mistaken as a middle class retreat, libraries have proven to be a valuable resource to those who need them most, according to veteran librarian Fergus Wilde.

"Public libraries are as well as providing access to books you can borrow frequently, providing people's only access to online resources. And the sort of reader who is going to go in there for online resources is often the reader who doesn't have that at home.

"Public libraries have a very significant role in helping out people who are otherwise unable to get hold of what they need," Wilde said.

Both the impact of the coronavirus, and the opinions of those who think that libraries can be run for free by volunteers, are damning to British libraries, he said.

"The fact is that these things do not run themselves. It is not simply a question of piling some books on a shelf and saying, here you are folks, the doors are open.

"As public resources they have played a vital role. And I think we're in danger of creating an impression that that is the case that somehow these things can be just kept ticking over free as public spaces," Wilde added.

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