Suffolk: Top authors urge libraries rethink
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 March 2011
THEY are more used to writing scripts and bestsellers but some of Suffolk’s top authors have added their signatures to a letter which outlines the strength of feeling at the threat to the county’s libraries.
Suffolk County Council is looking to hand over running of 29 of its 44 libraries to communities and volunteers – and if no-one comes forward, they will be closed.
The proposals have sparked fury across the county, particularly in rural towns and villages where residents would face a long trip to the nearest branch in a worst-case scenario.
Now, the Suffolk Book League has mobilised some of the leading lights of the literary world to voice their opposition to the plans, which are earmarked to save more than £2million.
The letter, signed by 27 leading writers and officers of the book league, says the council has both a legal and a moral obligation to protected the council’s much-loved library service.
“We all ask the council to reconsider its reckless policy. The relatively modest sum to be saved would be far outweighed by the social cost over many generations,” they write.
Co-signatories include Esther Freud, Louis de Bernieres, Baroness Ruth Rendell and Ronald Blythe, who all either live in or have strong links to the county.
Brian Morron, the chairman of the Suffolk Book League who organised the protest letter, said: “We appreciate the council has got to find savings across the board and that libraries may have to be part of that but I don’t believe it is necessary to close any of them.
“People may be prepared to put up with a reduction in opening hours and there are already volunteers in many libraries.
“What really frightens us is that there is a threat to libraries if volunteers don’t entirely take them over. It’s not a long-term solution.
“The council is basically saying ‘let’s offload the libraries’ but with no money, no help and no expertise.”
Robert Radcliffe, a bestselling novelist from Framlingham, has been campaigning to save his home town’s library.
“The library service is a) highly valued and b) highly valuable. It is more than books on shelves.
“Libraries are used for education, for research, as a meeting place, they are somewhere people who haven’t got the internet can access it.
“Visitors come in to Framlingham Library to ask where things are in the town and what they should go to see. It’s an information service.
“I understand cuts have to be made but I just feel there is undue haste in Suffolk’s plans.”
Esther Freud, a novelist who has a home in Southwold with her husband, the film actor David Morrissey, and their three children, said that closing libraries was a “heartbreaking scenario”.
“A library is such a vital resource for people who really need it,” she said. “The Government do seem to be picking on the most vulnerable.
“For those of us who have children, it’s a great way of introducing them to the love of books.”
She added: “It is a lovely idea for volunteers to come together to run something but the whole idea of volunteering is that it’s not something that is thrust upon you.”
Novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who was awarded a CBE in 2000 for her lifetime’s work, has joined the campaign to save Bungay Library.
“If this library closes, it will affect not only people in Bungay but the outlying villages as well. This is what the Government doesn’t understand.
“There is a big urban/rural divide that it was hoped would close but it hasn’t. Rural services should be ring-fenced. no question. It should not be a financial issue and this is a tiny amount of money when you consider what is being spent on other things.
“It’s not as if people can get the bus to other small towns as their libraries are closing as well, and then the bus routes are being cut.”
Ronald Blythe, author of the classic Suffolk novel Akenfield, said: “I don’t know much about the politics but it seems shocking to me to cut our libraries.
“A good public library is a professional place with skilled librarianship. With all due respect I don’t think volunteers can run a library. I think the library service is one of our treasures, there are other things that can be cut. I don’t understand it. It’s part of one’s culture, the local library.
Nicci Gerrard, who writes crime novels with her husband Sean French under the name Nicci French, said: “Libraries are one of the last great institutions of this country.
“The more cuts elsewhere the more necessary libraries will be – more people will be worried about their work, and there will be fewer places to go to read, browse, meet people and feel safe. We need them.”
Ms Gerrard, who lives near Hadleigh, said: “This great institution has taken centuries to build up and if we get rid of our libraries we won’t get them back.
“It’s a slippery slope and it will hit the poorest the hardest.”