Top authors join fight to save Suffolk libraries

LEADING authors have urged Suffolk County Council to rethink its plans to off-load two-thirds of its libraries.

Twenty-seven writers and members of the literary world have signed an open letter to the council, reminding senior officials of their legal and moral obligation to keep libraries open.

Those who have signed the letter, originated by the Suffolk Book League, include Louis de Bernieres, Baroness Ruth Rendell and Esther Freud, all of whom have strong links to the county.

'We all ask the council to reconsider its reckless policy. The relatively modest sum to be saved would be far outweighed by the social cost over many generations,' they write.

Ms Freud, who has a home in Southwold with her husband, the film actor David Morrissey, and their three children,said the prospect of closing libraries was 'heartbreaking' and urged the council to think again.

'A library is such a vital resource for people who really need it,' she said. 'The Government do seem to be picking on the most vulnerable. For those of us who have children, it's a great way of introducing them to the love of books.'

She added: 'It is a lovely idea for volunteers to come together to run something but the whole idea of volunteering is that it's not something that is thrust upon you.'

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Suffolk County Council says it can no longer afford to run 29 of its 44 libraries and is asking community groups to come forward to take them over. But if a deal cannot be reached, the branches - including those at Oulton Broad, Kessingland, Southwold and Bungay - face closure.

Brian Morron, the chairman of the Suffolk Book League who organised the protest letter, said: 'We appreciate the council has got to find savings across the board and that libraries may have to be part of that but I don't believe it is necessary to close any of them. People may be prepared to put up with a reduction in opening hours and there are already volunteers in many libraries.

'What really frightens us is that there is a threat to libraries if volunteers don't entirely take them over. It's not a long-term solution. 'The council is basically saying 'let's offload the libraries' but with no money, no help and no expertise.'

Novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who was awarded a CBE in 2000 for her lifetime's work, has joined the campaign to save Bungay Library.

'If this library closes, it will affect not only people in Bungay but the outlying villages as well. This is what the Government doesn't understand.

'There is a big urban/rural divide that it was hoped would close but it hasn't. Rural services should be ring-fenced. no question. It should not be a financial issue and this is a tiny amount of money when you consider what is being spent on other things.

'It's not as if people can get the bus to other small towns as their libraries are closing as well, and then the bus routes are being cut.'

Ronald Blythe, author of the classic Suffolk novel Akenfield, said: 'I don't know much about the politics but it seems shocking to me to cut our libraries.

'A good public library is a professional place with skilled librarianship. With all due respect I don't think volunteers can run a library. I think the library service is one of our treasures, there are other things that can be cut. I don't understand it. It's part of one's culture, the local library.

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