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Suffolk Libraries celebrates its 3rd birthday

Saturday 1 August 2015 marks the third birthday of Suffolk Libraries, as it is three years since we took on the running of Suffolk’s public library service.

In August 2012 we understood very clearly that our customers wanted us to keep local services open, raise their profile, keep them up-to date and give them a bright future. Our staff wanted to keep the jobs they love and carry on providing the help and support they excel at to their local communities.

So here we are today. All our libraries are still open. In fact some have better opening hours than before and they offer more, rather than less, with free Wi-Fi and new computers everywhere. We had a countywide book festival earlier this year, every library has a variety of community activities and events and everyone can use our free music and eBook downloads.

Our libraries are still run by paid staff. This year we introduced the Living Wage, which means that all our staff are guaranteed a reasonable rate of pay and 93% of our staff said in our recent survey that they are proud to work for us.

Our budget for this year from Suffolk County Council is 30% less than the library budget of 2010/11 which was £8.9 million. We have been inventive and innovative to stretch what we have and make it go further, but we have kept the quality of what we do and work with communities across the county to keep local library services relevant and shaped by local need.

In December 2014 we were described as the ‘gold standard’ for others to follow by William Sieghart, the man who led the Government’s independent inquiry into libraries. This year other library services have decided to follow our lead and are establishing mutual organisations based on ours. This is very flattering; however, we know the opinion which matters the most to us is yours. We carried out a customer survey in 2013 and over 90% of you felt that your library service had stayed the same or got better. We will repeat this survey later in 2015.

Some of the other developments and achievements over the past year:

  • Free Wi-Fi and new computers in all libraries, with a new website developed after customer feedback.
  • The launch of an Enterprise and Innovation Hub at Ipswich County Library: a dedicated centre supporting local entrepreneurs, start-ups, business owners and creative minds.
  • The Suffolk Libraries Bookfest book festival ran across the county in March with libraries hosting many other author events such as the Southwold Crime Writers Festival and Lowestoft Library Literary Festival.
  • Suffolk Libraries was granted £99,000 from Arts Council England for the ‘Suffolk Libraries Presents’ project which will be launching later in the summer with quality theatre, ballet and arts recordings screened in seven of the county’s libraries.
  • eBook lending and online visits continue to increase significantly and several eReader lending projects have been launched with Gainsborough and Thurston libraries lending eReader devices and Halesworth Library launching iPad lending this week. Suffolk Libraries is also launching a free digital magazine lending service in August.
  • This year other library services have decided to follow our lead and are establishing mutual organisations based on ours. We have had so much interest in the Suffolk model that we decided to hold a one day conference on the subject for other library services in March. This raised additional income to support our service.
  • Our success is a reflection of the commitment of our staff and also our community groups. The community groups give us local feedback, which have led to positive changes in opening hours and initiated new services. There has even been a recent change to a local library’s name – with the newly named Broomhill Library better reflecting the community it serves.
  • We have welcomed Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council into Felixstowe and Beccles libraries, sharing space with them so that they can deliver local services more cost effectively and delivering benefits for our customers too with Felixstowe now open on Mondays.
  • In 2014 Suffolk Libraries launched our 2020 Vision (PDF) which sets out our plans to keep our service strong, responsive and viable.
  • In October 2014 Stradbroke Library opened a post office. We believe we may be the first library service in the country to run a post office and it has been so successful that the opening hours are changing on 3 August to include a postal delivery on Mondays.
  • A partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council has meant that customers from Suffolk can borrow books from Cambridgeshire.

Suffolk Libraries’ contribution to education, learning and improving literacy levels will be a key focus over the coming year. Suffolk Libraries has an ambition to work more closely schools to encourage every 11 year old in Suffolk to get a library card and we have recently launched a new set of services for schools, designed to help pupils reach their potential, and help teachers with their jobs.

We are also welcoming a new Literacy Ambassador who is starting in mid-August and will be working closely with schools to ensure that our libraries make a positive contribution to pupil’s lives.

Alison Wheeler, Suffolk Libraries General Manager, said:

The library service in Suffolk is more diverse and innovative than ever. We feel there really is something to offer everyone and we still lend millions of printed books and reading, learning, information and help will always be at the heart of what we are and what we do. In these tough times we have a lot to be proud of – as an organisation but also as a county – as it is the support from the community which has made this model a success.

Tony Brown, Chair of Suffolk Libraries Board, said:

I offer my thanks, and congratulation to all the staff and the Community Groups all over the county who have worked together to make this third year so successful. Suffolk is lucky to have so many talented and energetic people dedicated to making our library service the ‘Gold Standard’ for others to aspire to.

Charlotte Clark, Manager of Southwold Library, said:

In the last three years we’ve been able to do more at Southwold Library than I ever thought we could. The combination of the support of our Friends group and the freedoms that Suffolk Libraries’ unique form allows us has given us the opportunity to offer so much more to the community.

So three years down the line we’ve now got an annual Crime Writers Festival (Slaughter in Southwold) in conjunction with the Crime Writers Association, we are planning our second flute concert with Dorking Flute Choir, our annual plant sale has grown into a fete and we have iPad and language courses running every week. I personally can now call bingo, MC a classical concert, talk convincingly, if not accurately, about plants and leap at every opportunity to bring something new to the library and the wider community!

Debra Rowe, Library and Information Advisor at Felixstowe Library, said:

We have a vibrant and forward thinking service. Since August 2012 when Suffolk Libraries became an industrial and provident society… I for one have never looked back.

Thank you all for your support. In the past it made the difference between closure and decline. Now your support helps us to thrive and flourish as a well-used and thriving library service.