Library merger on the cards

SUFFOLK’S library administration is set to be partially merged with the service from other counties, it has emerged.

The county council is looking to merge its book purchasing and distribution services with those in Essex and Cambridgeshire, and the two Essex unitary authorities of Thurrock and Southend.

While the county council would retain its own library service, this could eventually wither away with the purchase and distribution of titles handled on a regional basis and individual libraries run by community groups.

Members of the union Unison have been consulted about the proposals – and are concerned about the impact on jobs at the heart of the county’s library service.

The future of individual libraries is under review as Suffolk is taking part in a Government pilot study looking at how the service can be reformed.

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It has already been revealed that the county council is hoping to persuade community groups to take over the running of individual libraries – although an internal report warns there are serious risks with reforming the service.

Head of the library service Roger McMaster said the proposed changes were part of the “Spine Project” that staff at the county council have been looking at for several months with the aim of reducing costs. “This is not a total merger but we would be linking up with other authorities to purchase books and help to distribute them,” he said.

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While Mr McMaster is looking at ways of streamlining the purchase and distribution of material for libraries he has also produced a report which looks at two options for the future operation of the county’s libraries.

One involves creating a trust – or a “community interest company” – to run all the libraries independently of the county council. The other would hand over libraries to local groups such as parish councils or community organisations. The report says that setting up a trust could lead to savings for the county council of between �400,000 and �500,000 a year.

A Unison spokeswoman said: “The news of the stock control moving away from Suffolk shows just how vulnerable the whole of the local library service is. It looks and feels like the first step to creating a regional library service, moving away from local people and accountability.

“At the same time this is happening, Suffolk County Council has said it plans to ‘divest’ – in other words get rid of – our local libraries from being county council-run to being run by each and every local community volunteer group.

“These moves amount to an attack from all sides on the quality, service and local expertise we expect and want from our local libraries and on the staff who work there.”

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