Suffolk: Libraries are at ‘breaking point’ staff claim

LIBRARY bosses are assessing staffing gaps in Suffolk after reports that the service is close to “breaking point”.

Staff have contacted the East Anglian Daily Times with concerns that a two year recruitment freeze has left some vital services at risk.

One worker, who has worked at sites across the county for the last decade, said some libraries in Ipswich have already been forced to remain closed on Sundays due to a lack of cover.

“There has been no recruitment for two years. People leave and they are not replaced. I understand that they are going to start recruiting again but at the moment there is simply not enough relief staff to cover the holes.

They added: “There have been cases where libraries have actually been unable to open due to low staff levels. The Stoke Library in Ipswich has been closed and I know that the library in Hawthorn Drive has also experienced difficulties.”

The worker, who asked not to be named, said the pressure on resources began while libraries were controlled by Suffolk County Council and has so far continued under the Suffolk Libraries’ Industrial Provident Society (IPS) – the agency which took control of Suffolk ’s 44 libraries at the start of August.

“The free services offered at libraries are valued across a wide population. They provide opportunities far beyond borrowing books or using computers. Sunday craft sessions are ideal for lone parents, especially dads and forces families, to socialise and play with their children, in a warm safe environment. The baby and toddler activities are also social occasions for mums, dads, grannies, grandads and the children. It is very disappointing for both adults and children to arrive at a library only to find it is closed.

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The frontline worker, who said staff are working hard to “paper over cracks”, said many people were also concerned about volunteers replacing paid employees.

But Alison Wheeler, IPS general manager, who confirmed there had been a couple of instances when libraries did not open, said the agency began assessing the staffing situation within days of taking control.

She added: “The recruitment freeze was something put in place under Suffolk County Council. We are outside that now. We have already brought someone in to look at all of the vacancies and to do analysis to improve staffing levels.”

Ms Wheeler, who said 40 relief staff have already been re-employed, said those working at libraries should be reassured that the agency had “acted immediately.”

She also insisted that volunteers would not replace paid positions.

“I know our staff have been concerned, but volunteers should not be seen as a threat, they are there to support staff not replace them,” Ms Wheeler added.