Estonian municipalities continue to close public libraries

Books in a library.
Books in a library. Source: Klassikaraadio

Cash-strapped Estonian municipalities have decided to close more public libraries in order to cut down on costs. In addition to the libraries, which have already closed in Rõuge Municipality (Võru County), four more are now also set to disappear from villages close to Lihula (Pärnu County).

On Thursday, Lihula Municipal Council (Pärnu County) decided to close four libraries, in Kirbla, Tuudi, Metsküla and Saulepi, in order to save money. Lääneranna Municipal Mayor Ingvar Saare (Isamaa) said, that all four are located near other libraries, meaning their closure will not leave an unfillable void in their respective local communities.

"I know the media like to write things like that, but the council is looking at the bigger picture and (access to library) services will continue to be guaranteed for local people," Saare said.

Public libraries in Lääneranna, which is also in Pärnu County are also set to close their doors for good on May 1. According to local news outlet Lääne Elu, these libraries are used by around 400 readers, and two employees will lose their jobs as a result of their closure.

This year, the local government in Rõuge Municipality, Võru County has also decided to close down one of its public libraries, bringing the remaining nine in the municipality under a unified management structure and renaming them as "service points."

Last year a total of five public libraries were closed in Estonia, four of which were in Järva County - Ervita, Karinu, Käsukonna and Käravete. Krabi Library in Rõuge Municipality was the fifth. Meanwhile in Valga County, Tõrva Children's Library was also merged with Tõrva City Library.

According to data collected by the National Library of Estonia, there were 629 public libraries in Estonia in 1990. This number fell to 556 in 2013, and 513 in 2021. While some public libraries have closed every year since the 1990s, some years have seen a spike in shutdowns. In 1993 for instance, 22 public libraries shut up shop, while 12 were closed down in 2000. In both 2004 and 2015, Estonia lost nine of its public libraries, while seven ceased operations in each of the years 2014, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Ministry of Culture: Successful libraries could be kept running

Library Advisor at the Estonian Ministry of Culture Ülle Talihärm said, that while the restructuring of Estonia's public libraries and library services is ongoing, it does not mean closure in every case.

"It could mean that libraries come under joint management, for example," said Talihärm.

"Until local governments have made a decision (regarding closure or reorganization), they will not inform the Ministry of Culture. They are required notify the ministry a month before any reorganization takes place, but so far this year, no such notifications have arrived," Talihärm said.

"We are still in favor of keeping libraries in places where people go and use them - where they are an important meeting place and provide access to information," she continued.

"We have suggested that (the best approach is) to look at the statistics, meet with people and consider how things could be reorganizes and done better. Then, if you look at the statistics and it turns out that people are not going to the library (because) people have moved away (from the area), then usually the local community has no problem with the library closing," Talihärm said.

"However, in cases where conflicts have arisen, the Ministry of Culture has spoken to both the municipality and the local community," she added.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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