Southwold and Kessingland libraries among 29 facing axe
SHOCKWAVES are set to ripple across Suffolk today with the news that 29 of the county's libraries are facing closure.
Suffolk County Council is planning to close two-thirds of the county's libraries – including Southwold, Kessingland and Bungay – if volunteers cannot be found to take over their management.
The council will launch a three-month consultation today to try to attract community groups, parish councils or businesses to come forward and run their local libraries, in a bid to save 30 per cent of its �9m library budget.
Judy Terry, county councillor responsible for libraries, said: 'We are hoping that people will come forward with their ideas but the fallback position is that if we don't get those responses, then 29 libraries do have to close.
'As a child I used to spend every Saturday afternoon in my local library right up until my teens, but we do have to be realistic and realise we can't continue operating on the same basis as we have done in the past.
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'We are in a different financial environment and all councils and the Government are having to make very significant savings.'
The council is hoping community groups will come forward to take over the libraries before the consultation closes at the end of April.
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But campaigners are outraged at the idea of losing the county's precious library resources.
Roger Mackay, who organised a protest at the weekend against the cuts in Ipswich, said: 'It's my worst fears confirmed – I think it's absolutely appalling. Libraries are an important part of the fabric of every community and I think it's devastating that they should say 29 face closure.
'I don't think their plans are realistic because I don't ever see how volunteers, however well meaning they might be, could ever offer the same service as a professional. It takes three years to train as a librarian and I can't see any volunteer being able to match that.'
Steve Smedley, of pressure group Save Leiston Library, said: 'Sadly it is not a surprise. It is something I have been expecting, especially given other experiences across the country.
'It provides an incredibly important service, not just for borrowing books but also for IT support.
'People in the local area will be fighting this tooth and nail.'
County councillor Richard Kemp, who could see two libraries close in his Melford constituency, said: 'I think it's very disappointing.
'If we want young people to get into reading – which is more educational than watching television or playing games – it's a real backward step.
'I just don't think the groundwork has been done. Libraries were almost an institution to educate people before we ever had an education system.
'There is absolutely no small print or detail to give anybody any idea of whether or not they would be interested.'Stephanie Bennell, chairman of Framlingham Town Council, labelled the proposals 'dreadful' but said the town council would consider taking over the running of the library.
Fears have also been raised over children's literacy once the cuts go through, as the latest SATs results for seven-year-olds show Suffolk's youngsters are already underperforming in English compared to the national average.
Speaking on Monday night at a public meeting in Winston, near Debenham, county council chief executive Andrea Hill, said: 'There will be some libraries that if no one wants to fund them, we won't be able to fund them and they will close.'
Full details of the proposals will be made available today (Tuesday) on www.suffolk.gov.uk.