York is a lucky city in lots of ways. Not just for the obvious beauty of our historical heritage and world class museums but for a reason closer to local communities’ hearts: the fact that our library service has survived the dark days of government spending cuts since 2010 in remarkably sound health. That is pretty good going when more than 478 public libraries have been forced to close in England, Scotland and Wales over that period.

Credit where it’s due for this slice of good news. Successive councils have refrained from applying the axe when their budgets have been whittled away and the good folk at York Explore have proved resourceful, diligent and hardworking guardians of the service they inherited from City of York Council back in May 2014.

Their current contract is due to expire at the same time as our membership of the European Union in March 2019. Hopefully, with happier prospects than the ones Theresa May has been ineptly ‘negotiating’ for the last two years.

Change always offers opportunities and risks. Our treasured library service faces unprecedented challenges in the very way we read and consume information. The digital revolution hovers always in the background, questioning the primacy of the printed word for any library worthy of the name. So it is perhaps reassuring for print-junkies like me, that recent user surveys conducted on behalf of the council show the traditional function of lending books is by far the most important aspect of the service - more so than computer access, study space or events for children and families.

However, I am sure that I am not alone in noticing the book stock of York Explore has shrunk over the last decade. This trend carries an implicit danger that if trips to the library become unfruitful people will simply cease to make them.

Books, however, come in lots of new ways. I predict that e-books will become more user-friendly as technology advances. The key issue is making sure that anyone who wishes to read can do so free of charge. Whether that involves a print edition or e-book should be irrelevant.

The council’s survey also showed that people in the city believe having well-trained staff running the libraries is by far the most important thing when it comes to planning the service’s future. This issue should be firmly directed at our current government who are deliberately underfunding local authorities. All sensible folk applaud the sacrifices and efforts of volunteers in our libraries. The problem is when there are not enough professionally-qualified staff employed at a decent rate of pay. Skilled, qualified librarians are the guardians of our intellectual heritage. To many of us, they are unsung heroes.

As our city considers the specifications for the next library service contract, much praise should be given for some of the innovations we have seen. New reading cafés in parks, exciting author events and the annual Big Read have all been successes. However, the looming reality that our historic libraries need £3million of repairs over the next few years must be addressed and prioritised. We cannot allow libraries to fall into disrepair through underfunding, as we have allowed our children’s school buildings to decay.

A new report from thinktank Demos and literacy charity the Reading Agency provides evidence that reading can assist with lifting people from lives of deprivation – intellectual, emotional and economic – as well as helping address mental health problems and even delaying the onset of dementia. They argue that book circles and reading aloud schemes should be publicly funded and it is hard to think of better venues than well-resourced local libraries.

Personally, I love the idea of more, smaller library outlets in natural community hubs, like the reading café in Rowntree Park. Such go-to places perfectly complement our iconic central library with its renowned local archives.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ Certainly, reading increases empathy and can be medicine for a troubled, alienated soul. Books are shining roads to freedom and a shared humanity that we build with the best of our hearts, imaginations and minds.