Rural libraries face uncertain future

LIBRARIES across Suffolk are facing an uncertain future – with rural communities being asked to take over their local branch.

County bosses have denied there will be any widespread closures – but admit they will be looking at the “viability” of branches, especially if no-one comes forward to take them over.

The county is keen that local community groups or parish councils should take over the running of library buildings.

A county council spokesman said: “There is no suggestion that if a community group does not take on the responsibility for running the library that it will automatically be closed.

“Clearly consideration needs to be given to the viability of a library but this is not about dismantling the library service and replacing all staff with volunteers.

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“It’s about working to build community capacity so that community groups can govern and manage their libraries to deliver the service to outcomes agreed with the county council.

“Suffolk County Council remains the body that has a statutory duty to ensure there is a comprehensive and efficient library service in Suffolk.”

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He said the management of individual libraries could be handed over to community groups in the same way that schools were run by governing bodies.

However, the buildings, books and employees would remain part of the county council.He added: “Library managers would, in this model, report to their governing community body, which would be funded through a grant from Suffolk County Council.”

Staff have been to a series of “New Strategic Direction” roadshows – and many have come away with the impression that individual libraries could be under threat if community groups or parish councils do not take them over.

But the spokesman pointed out it is a statutory obligation for county councils to offer book lending libraries.

He said: “There has to be a lending library service – the question is how that service is provided.”

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard said people were concerned about the future of the library service – as with other council services – because at present there was no clear information coming out of the county.

“I know there is concern both within the council and in communities across Suffolk – whether that concern is justified at the moment we simply do not know.

“What I do know is that the library service is highly valued by the people of Suffolk and highly regarded across the country.

“And any savings that is made will only be very small in comparison with the overall level of savings that the county needs to find over the next few months.”

Rosemary Clarke, county councillor with responsibility for libraries, said all options for the service were still under consideration and a final decision would be made later in the year.

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