‘Fantastic response’ to plea for libraries ideas

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THE call for ideas on running Suffolk’s libraries has brought more than 1,300 responses from individuals, communities and companies.

With the consultation, which ends on April 30, only halfway through, Suffolk County Council says it is too early to comment on any of the approaches from those wanting to run libraries but a spokesman said: “The conversation has moved on from the early ‘don’t do this’ stage to people thinking about how we can do it. It’s a fantastic response.”

Some parish councils have organised meetings to see what local people want. Ixworth Parish Council has one on Wednesday, March 16, at 7pm in the village hall, but chairman Teresa Plummer does not want ‘save our library’ placards.

“That doesn’t help, I want positive ideas,” she said. “I don’t want a hall of people moaning. I’m hoping people will come forward with ideas on how we can move it forward – whether we carry on with the library in its present form, try to expand services or ask for the mobile library to call instead.”

She said who paid for parishes running libraries was a concern. She added: “About half the people who use our library are from Ixworth parish and the rest come from other parishes. People from Ixworth would be paying for others using it.”

She also worries about parish councils’ and volunteers’ lack of library expertise.

“I don’t even know what questions I should be asking about running it,” she said.

One of the companies to approach Suffolk is LSSI, which runs 16 library services in the USA. Its UK founding vice-president Stuart Fitzgerald questioned the viability of libraries run by many groups, citing problems of a central organisation having to run so many different accounts and the potential loss of experienced staff.

Though LSSI uses volunteers in the States, he said they did the work anyone could do, from stamping books to organising public events.

Mr Fitzgerald said: “A lot of the anxiety around the concept of privatisation is people saying it’s tantamount to selling off the Crown Jewels. But the model is already there in leisure centres.You either had management buy-out or companies came in and ran them, but the council still owns the site.”

He said the advantage of the LSSI model was that instead of a central organisation for every county’s library service, one team runs several with the savings funding better services in the libraries.