Suffolk: Library staff “reduced to tears” – manager
11:23 15 June 2011
A SENIOR manager has told how staff had been reduced to tears by the uncertainty they faced over attempts to divest Suffolk’s library service.
Theo Clarke, who manages the Chantry and Stoke libraries in Ipswich, said Suffolk County Council’s consultation process had been confusing and had shattered both library users and staff.
Mr Clarke said: “We heard one day the libraries were closing, the next they were saved, and then that they were threatened again.”
He said there had been occasions when staff had been reduced to tears. He had no criticism of library managers who were victims of a lack of clarity from the centre.
“The only thing that was clear was the lack of clarity,” he said.
After the meeting, a county council spokesman said: “Our directors have an open door policy, especially when it comes to important matters involving staff.
“We are therefore very surprised that the manager in question has not used the opportunity to raise any issues until now. We want our staff to be part of the work we’re doing to build a library service fit for the future.’’
Earlier library campaigners told the meeting that they felt a “gun was being placed to their heads” once the consultation paper was published in January.
The consultation documents were very confusing and lacking detail but the message coming through to communities with small libraries was: “If you don’t take it over, it will close.”
James Hargrave, from Stradbroke, told the meeting that his community had expressed an early interest in running the library, but it had been impossible to get details to allow them to make a bid.
When figures emerged it became clear that the cost of running a small library would be too great for the parish council to consider.
He said: “The parish raises £26,000 a year while it costs £70,000 a year to run the library. That is too much for the parish to consider.”
The threat to his library – and to other libraries across the county – had sparked a wave of action from people who had never considered taking to the streets before.
Judy Terry, county councillor with responsibility for libraries, said: “The last few months have been a learning curve and we have all learned a lot about the value of libraries to their communities.”
She said the county was planning to press ahead with proposals to set up a community interest company to run the library service.
That would work with communities to allow them to run a service tailored to their own needs.
Library user Peter Greatrex from Ipswich urged the council not to allow the fragmentation of the service.
He said: “We are very lucky to be able to go to the other side of the county and still be able to borrow from the library. Do not put that at risk.”
He had recently moved to the area and had been very impressed by the universal nature of the library service.
The findings of the scrutiny committee will be passed through to the county’s cabinet, which is due to consider the library service at its meeting in July.
The key findings were: The county must offer more clarity to communities interested in running libraries, the county must be satisfied about the financial viability of bids, and that further expressions of interest in taking over libraries should be considered after it emerged that the future of all libraries were now under consideration.