This has been an interesting week for UK public libraries in general and for those in Suffolk in particular. On Friday 9 March 2012 it became clear that the Manager of Aldeburgh Library, Ian Rousham, had resigned at the end of February because he disagreed with the plans put forward by the Aldeburgh Library Steering Group and its refusal to consult further with Aldeburgh people after the County Council promised all libraries would stay open. Clive Fox, chairman both of the Aldeburgh Library Steering Group and of the new countywide library organisation (the Industrial and Provident Society) came in for particular criticism, as did Judy Terry, the Suffolk County Council cabinet member responsible for libraries. Rousham suggests, “Judy Terry, like a drowning woman, clutched at Clive Fox as a man who could deliver her plan.” He also deplores the way in which SCC has divested itself of direct responsibility for running libraries.
This must be a worrying time for SCC’s dominant Tory group who are driving the divestment of libraries to the external IPS and beyond to unelected, unaccountable ‘community groups’. More worrying still for people who love their libraries in Suffolk is that it might signal the departure of further dedicated but disillusioned staff in these times of upheaval from a once great and much valued public service.
Ipswich Library Co-op collapses
There was further bad news for the Tory Councillors and the IPS on Tuesday 13 March when an announcement was made that the ‘Ipswich Library Managers Co-operative’ which had put in an Expression of Interest to run their own libraries as part of the flawed Consultation process in 2011, had collapsed. “After several months of hard work we have decided that the Ipswich Libraries Co-operative proposal did not fit with the ambitions of the Ipswich County Library and that of the Gainsborough Community Library. With the best intentions of the users and staff in mind it is felt that an independent activity would be more able to meet their needs.” This development is significant. This is the first of the Library Pilot Schemes set up as a consequence of of SCC’s decisions, to fail. We count fourteen libraries across Suffolk involved in these schemes and this particular pilot was certainly the biggest as it encompassed the Ipswich County Library, Rosehill, Gainsborough, Stoke and Chantry libraries (we believe that the Westbourne group had already opted out). This must surely be a serious blow to the council’s divestment hopes.
Rosehill Readers has consistently opposed the divestment being driven through by Council Leader Mark Bee, Councillor Judy Terry and other Tory Councillors. We’ve also opposed the drastic cuts in funding to what was an already lean, efficient shoestring library service in Suffolk. The entire library budget in 2010/11 represented less than 0.9% of the County’s total budget. Cutting the 8.9 million pounds budget (2010/2011 figures) to 6.5 million must have a massive negative effect on quality of service and stock as well as losses of experienced, dedicated staff. Setting up an IPS from scratch with such a cut in funding, is a risky enterprise as we are told by Suffolk County Council themselves. The IPS is untried in this context. Is this the time to use our Suffolk library service as a test-bed for such a high risk folly, burdened with bureacracy and needless complexity?
Speak Up For Libraries
On Wednesday 14 March, a deputation from Rosehill Readers took part in a rally and MP lobby event organized by a new name on the library front. Speak Up For Libraries is a coalition of organisations and campaigners: Campaign for the Book, The Library Campaign, The National Federation of Women’s Institutes, UNISON and Voices for the Library.
Speakers included UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis and writer Kate Mosse as well as other authors, campaigners and library supporters from all over the country. The strength of this coalition is the diversity of its founding organisations: all united in their love of libraries as a vital community, educational and cultural asset: the mark of a civilised society. United even more closely by the onslaught on our public libraries in recent months and the total inaction of the Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt in the face of the closures and cuts in hours and services across the country.
Coincidentally, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Library Closures the same morning as the rally, so we were able to view his testimony, broadcast live on a big screen at the event. You may recall that Rosehill Reader Abby Barker gave eloquent evidence to the same committee on Tuesday 7 February 2012 (as detailed elsewhere on this blog). One of the speakers at the Speak Up For Libraries rally characterized Vaizey’s performance as “Crisis, what crisis?” and then “It’s nothing to do with me”. The Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) has a legal duty to supervise the library service in this country and to ensure that local authorities comply with their duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service. Rosehill Readers call upon the Minister responsible for libraries: Ed Vaizey, to act in accordance with the requirements of the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 and to fulfill his duties. We believe that the Minister responsible for libraries should have intervened with local authorities as soon as library closures were announced and that Government inaction is unacceptable.
Our deputation then lobbied our MP in the Central Lobby in the Palace of Westminster and stated our case as clearly and forcefully as good manners allowed. Rosehill Readers has always believed that the libraries and Record Offices in Suffolk should be funded, managed and wholly run by our Library Authority as required by law: Suffolk County Council. 83% of respondents to the SCC Libraries Consultation in spring 2011 agreed with this.