The decision by Birmingham City Council to slash £200 million from its budget, with a £2.3 million reduction earmarked specifically for library services, sets a concerning precedent for the city’s digital inclusion efforts. With plans to convert 11 out of 36 library venues into joint service hubs and leaving 25 at risk of closure, the council risks not just the loss of cherished community hubs but the exacerbation of the digital divide.

For many in Birmingham, and across the UK, libraries offer crucial access to the internet and digital resources – services that are indispensable in our increasingly digital society. The reduction in library venues means longer journeys for free internet access, placing an undue burden on those already facing digital exclusion.

Furthermore, libraries play a pivotal role in promoting digital literacy, offering programmes that teach essential skills for navigating today’s online world. From job applications to online safety, these skills are not just beneficial but necessary for full participation in society. However, the urgency of addressing the digital skills gap cannot be overstated. A lack of digital skills is the most prominent dimension of digital poverty, impacting roughly 22% of the population aged 16 and over in the UK. The proposed staffing cuts and reliance on volunteer support risk diluting the quality and availability of these programmes, at a time when enhancing digital literacy is more critical than ever.

The suggestion that community-led initiatives might keep the remaining libraries operational is optimistic but overlooks the complexities of delivering consistent, quality digital services. The transition to volunteer-run services cannot replace the expertise and dedication of professional staff.

Libraries are more than just physical spaces; they are portals to vast online educational resources, many of which are not accessible elsewhere due to cost or licensing restrictions. Reducing library services risks denying community members access to this wealth of knowledge, further entrenching educational and economic disparities.

The Digital Poverty Alliance stands for universal digital inclusion, advocating for access and skills as fundamental rights. The proposed library cuts threaten this vision, risking long-term damage to Birmingham’s digital inclusivity.

We urge Birmingham City Council to reconsider these cuts: It’s crucial to explore sustainable alternatives that do not compromise digital access and literacy. We also call on the wider community, including private and third sector entities, to support efforts to maintain our libraries as accessible, vibrant centres of learning and digital engagement. The stakes are high, not only for Birmingham but for the broader UK, as we strive to bridge the digital divide and ensure that digital poverty is eradicated for all.