STEVEN Broomhead is head of the national libraries task force and argues the case for their importance in his latest column

THERE are more than 225 million visits to libraries nationally each year.

In Warrington in the past year there were more than 670,000 visits and there were 382,000 book issues which is three times the total expected attendance at Wire home games this season.

Libraries matter – they are about people, learning and reading experiences and not about the buildings.

For the past year I had the privilege of chairing the government’s National Libraries Task Force which is about providing leadership, ambition and support to public libraries in England.

There are 151 library authorities (including Warrington) responsible for 3,260 council run libraries.

Here we have 11 libraries which cost approx £700k per year to run.

Approximately 50 per cent of the UK population holds a library card (42 per cent here). Libraries are highly valued by tax payers and over 75 per cent of the population say libraries are important for community.

Warrington Guardian: Library campaigners outside the town's central library

Campaigners fought to save libraries in Warrington

The social and economic return on the tax payers investment is huge – estimates suggest that every £1 invested in libraries produces a return of up to £7. Unfortunately as austerity has bitten local councils the investment in libraries has reduced by £213m nationally since 2010 with a 50 per cent reduction in Warrington.

In 2016 I chaired the Warrington Local Libraries Partnership Group that with council agreement determined that all of our libraries should remain open and receive new £1m+ capital investment in the buildings and books.

It’s particularly pleasing as libraries reach a strongly diversified audience.

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Librarians are among the top five most trusted professionals. Libraries offer safe places and have a proven impact on health and wellbeing. Libraries also deliver a wide range of digital skills initiatives through supported internet access. Libraries also have a positive impact on social mobility by helping their users build skills, confidence and employability.

Of course there are challenges. The number of book issues in our town has fallen by 20 per cent in the past five years but the number of visits has increased partly due to an increased range of activities provided in the libraries ‘space’. We have had some really innovative activities – Post Office in Burtonwood, speed dating in Orford, small business use in Stockton Heath.

It’s important we maintain our ambition and commit to our public library service. I would like to thank the army of volunteers and friends of our libraries who have helped to maintain this vital community service.

In the stark words of Lord Bird: “If you want to close libraries, consider building more prisons.” Libraries aren’t just about the books they are our community lifeblood and are an exposition of our optimum societal values.