Suffolk libraries to be resilient despite less borrowing

Friends of Lowestoft Library giant Book Sale.

Friends of Lowestoft Library giant Book Sale. - Credit: Nick Butcher

The number of books being borrowed from libraries in Suffolk is falling at a faster rate and has dipped below the three million mark for the first time, it can be revealed.

But the boss of Suffolk Libraries, which has suffered funding cuts of almost 30 per cent since 2010, insisted she is not 'scared' about the future and said for the community to expect 'more years of resilient survival'.

The latest Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) book borrowing figures showed the number of physical books borrowed from Suffolk's libraries fell from 3,171,903 in 2013/14 to 2,904,656 in 2014/15 – a fall of 8.4 per cent.

In 2012/13 the figure was 3,236,652 – a two per cent decline.

The number of borrowed children's physical books has also fallen, from 1,017,946 in 2013/14 to 973,456 in 2014/15 – a 4.3 per cent drop.

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The figures come amid ongoing talks between Suffolk Libraries and Suffolk County Council over future funding.

Suffolk Libraries became a separate organisation from the county council in 2012, but relies on the authority for its main source of funding. Funding for libraries fell from £8.9million in 2010/11 to £6.4million in 2014/15.

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Library bosses last month pledged that none of the 44 branches in the county will close under their management. But the county council's current budget proposals include a reduction of 11 per cent over the next two years.

Alison Wheeler, general manager of Suffolk Libraries, said: 'We are not complacent about what is coming, but neither are we scared.

'We have got a good three years of successful and resilient survival behind us. I see more years of resilient survival ahead.

'I think we have done more in the three-and-a-half years that we have been independent and with less money than we ever did in the five or 10 years before, so I don't see our library service going into decline whatsoever.

'There is more community support and a really strong understanding of what the customers like. We are looking to the future with determination, not anxiety.

'We are going to be here in the future, always changing a bit to respond to changes around us, but at the core still there to support reading, knowledge, ideas, and learning.

'But the best way for someone to support us is to carry on using us, because the more they use us, the more we know that what we are doing is the right thing and it is a better case to present to the funder.'

Libraries are now much more than just a place where you can borrow a book.

Ms Wheeler explained the organisation has had to 'diversify' to increase usage and make them relevant community facilities.

She said: 'Book borrowing is still important to us, and we still lend millions of books every year and always will lend millions of books I think, but what we know is that the library building has got to do lots of different things for different people. It is our duty to keep up with people who like reading in a different format, too.

'We are going to be challenged if our funding is cut radically. At the moment, we are in negotiation about our budget for next year and the year after, and we know that our library service is valued by Suffolk County Council, our funder, but we also understand that they are facing pretty significant cuts themselves.

'So there will be a challenge for us and other library services to keep a good-quality service with less money.

'That means we have to be inventive, look at how we can do things a bit differently, take advantage of the goodwill in the communities towards us, find new ways of providing what we have done before, but keep the standard and high levels of satisfaction.

'We have got 44 community groups in Suffolk who I know will help us and keep us on our toes.'

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