A DISCUSSION over libraries started quite a debate in the Courant offices recently.

The battle lines were drawn over whether, in the age of the internet, libraries were still relevant.

The fact that Allendale’s library was open just one day a week over the summer could indicate to some that they are not – but other colleagues maintained that they still played a vital role in the community.

It’s fair to say the role they play has changed significantly over the years – libraries across the country have had to come up with clever solutions to deal with falling visitor numbers and a decrease in funding from councils and the Government.

Not all of them managed. The Guardian reported that 130 public libraries closed in Britain in 2017 as financial pressures saw local authorities continue to apply swingeing cuts to budgets.

Furthermore, libraries are increasingly reliant on volunteers with an additional 3,000 volunteers brought in to run the remaining libraries, taking the total to 51,394.

The figure spent on libraries by councils fell by £30m, and 712 full-time employees lost or left their jobs, to be replaced by volunteers.

However, the idea that a library is simply a place to borrow books is an outdated one.

When Hexham Library, housed in the Queen’s Hall, underwent a £500,000 refurbishment last year, tourist information and council customer services were brought together under one roof. In November, a digital microfilm scanner was installed to enable fast and efficient viewing and printing from the treasure trove of microfilms in the library’s collection, giving residents and visitors another reason to pop in.

And it’s not just libraries in larger towns that are managing to survive and thrive in the internet age.

Haydon Bridge’s library is open six days a week through the summer and five days a week through the winter.

The library is staffed and run by volunteers overseen by the Haydon Bridge Development Trust, which fund-raises throughout the year to pay for the bills.

Estimates from Public Libraries News showed that the number of libraries in the hands of volunteers had increased from 10 in 2010 to around 500 in 2017.

Eileen Charlton, who co-ordinates the volunteers, said she never knew what people would come looking for next.

She said: “The library is vitally important to the community, in more ways than one.

“A library is more than one thing. People think of them as just going to borrow books.

“Since we’ve opened, we’ve had to extend our opening hours. You don’t know what’s coming in next. We have people new to the area wanting to know what’s on and what they can do, or people wanting to trace their family history.

“They promote the area, we have to have a voice and that’s what the library does.

“It used to be open twice a week when it was run by the county council, but we’re open five days a week all year round.

“It’s all volunteers and we pay all our own bills, but it’s still a county council library. We can order any book from anywhere in the county.”

Also important are the library’s two computers, which are available to be used by residents.

It is quite clear, particularly in the more rural parts of Tynedale, libraries continue to play a big role in our communities. However, they still need to adapt and evolve further to combat an increasing number of challenges in a digital age.