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While Birmingham City Council presses ahead with plans to build a £193m replacement for its Central Library, concerned residents in Yardley Wood have called a meeting for this Thursday evening over the parlous state of their branch library. Steve Beauchampe has the whys and wherefores.

Back in early February a skylight over the reception hall of Yardley Wood Library slipped, as a result of which part of the building was designated unsafe. A small matter you might think, but one with much larger ramifications.

Six months later and there is no sign of repair work beginning; the entrance remains closed, the front gates are padlocked and the grass bordering the small car park is unkempt and overgrown, with access to the building via a scruffy and poorly lit side passageway.

Inside, it’s an equally dispiriting sight; a floor to ceiling-sized blue tarpaulin sheet screens the damaged area from public view, behind which the reception hall, children’s library and lavatories remain out of bounds.

With no money available from the constituency budget for this financial year, it will be at least Spring 2009 before the situation can be addressed, during which time water will continue to seep in, exacerbating the problems and increasing the ultimate repair cost.

In a consultancy-led culture, where outsourcing or disposal of loss-making local authority facilities is commonplace, there is an increasing fear that Yardley Wood Library could soon be closed permanently.

The building, opened in 1936, already felt quite isolated, following road realignment in the 1970s that left it largely hidden from main roads and bus routes and it is no surprise that visitor numbers have fallen since the calamitous events of February.

The site is close to both Chinn Brook Recreation Ground and Trittiford Mill Park and Pool, and, even in these economically chastened times, could be attractive to a housing developer or perhaps the NHS for use as an expanded health centre, with money for the controversial new polyclinics seemingly much more forthcoming,

Regular library users are concerned that Library Services managers, who have enthusiastically embraced the Council’s favoured consultants, Capita, may opt to replace the existing building with one of the smaller, new-style neighbourhood libraries, such as that which opened lhis year at Cocks Moors Woods, but which offer considerably reduced hours and book selection than the five days per week service offered by the city’s long-established branch libraries.

Given concerns about falling or stagnating literacy standards amongst all age groups (a problem as prevalent in the Yardley Wood locality as in many other of the city’s Wards) any contraction in services would be hard to understand.

Thursday’s meeting gives users an opportunity to form a Friends Group to fight to safeguard Yardley Wood Library’s future, but whether senior management will listen, or prefer to allow the building a slow death, is another matter altogether. If evidence from their attitude to the Friends of the Central Library group is anything to go by, there is reason to worry.

The meeting takes place at Yardley Wood Library, Highfield Road, Yardley Wood (near the junction with Glastonbury Road) at 6pm this Thursday, August 7th.

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