BIG ideas from the community are needed to save 29 libraries from the axe if Suffolk’s library service is to reach its £2.7 million savings target, the county has warned.
Launching the ideas appeal on Tuesday, the county’s cabinet lead on the library consultation, Cllr Judy Terry, said: “We’re asking communities to come forward with ideas on how libraries can be run.
“We’re concerned that in other parts of the country, like Oxford, they have decided just to cut. We think this is an opportunity to reconfigure the service to meet people’s needs.”
As part of the £43 million Suffolk must cut over the next two years, the library service must hack 30 per cent off its £9 million budget – a cut of £2.7 million over two years.
Cllr Terry said they believed 10 per cent could be saved through ‘management savings’, which may mean redundancies. The rest has to come from reorganising its 44 libraries and six mobile libraries, which were visited by 44 per cent of Suffolk’s adults last year.
The plan is to have 15 county libraries whose future is certain which will be run by the county if no suitable outside body is found, but must still make savings. Then there are 29 proposed community libraries whose survival depends on who comes forwards to run them.
County libraries are in key areas of population, get enough business to have a good cost per loan, serve areas of deprivation, are open long hours, make at least 50,000 loans a year and are not near other county libraries.
Proposed community libraries are those currently open fewer hours with lower loan rates increasing their cost per loan.
Cllr Terry said some district and parish councils had already shown an interest, particularly in incorporating libraries in a hub with other services, like a youth or health centre. But other community groups are being encouraged to take on libraries, or people could form a trust or society to run one.
Cllr Terry said: “I don’t think the buildings are sacrosanct. A library could move into a pub, for example, as one has in North Yorkshire.
“Someone raised computers in libraries. The county could look at providing computers in a public area. They don’t have to be in a library.”
Where libraries stay in county buildings, the new management would become a tenant.
Assistant director of libraries Guenever Pachent said the employment terms of staff whose libraries were taken over would be protected by transfer of personnel regulations.
Consultation ends on April 30, but Cllr Terry stressed those with ideas did not need to give detailed plans yet. “What we want is their expressions of interest,” she said.
If the changes do not produce the savings, the future is bleak for some libraries. Cllr Terry warned: “The bottom line has to be that if we can’t achieve 30 per cent savings we will have to look at other ways, which will mean focusing on key libraries and others will be sacrificed.”
Library users hope that will not happen. Emma Butler, of Meadow Court, Elmswell, said: “It would be a shame to see it go. This is the biggest village in Suffolk – they have fund-raising events at the library and it’s a good place for meetings.”
Amy Kerridge, from Elmswell, said: “I know it would be missed. My dad’s partner goes there every Sunday and I went there to use the internet when mine wasn’t working.”
At Thurston Library, Jackie Jones, of Pheasant Close, said: “I would hate to have it closed. I use it regularly, every week. I have always found it to be excellent – they’re a brilliant service, particularly for the older people who can’t get about much.”
n What do you think about the proposals on the future of our libraries? Email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Libraries debate, Newsdesk, Bury Free Press, King’s Road, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3ET