Library customers are being asked to have their say on the future of the county’s library service.
At the end of 2016, Suffolk Libraries’ Board voted unanimously to trigger a five-year extension to its contract which will run from August 2017 to 2022.
Suffolk Libraries is now looking ahead to the next five years and is starting a review to define how it can run a modern and affordable library service which meets the needs of the people of Suffolk. A new customer survey is being launched, asking people what they feel is important about the county’s library service, and there is also a new membership scheme giving people a new opportunity to support Suffolk Libraries.
The library service budget has been reduced by a further £200,000 for 2017/18 and year-on-year reductions means the library service budget is now 33% less than in 2010.
Tony Brown, Chair of Suffolk Libraries, said: “Whilst there are challenges ahead for our library service, we are now looking to the future and want to build on the successful work we have done since 2012 to protect and improve services across Suffolk and to local communities.
“There is much to be positive about; all our libraries are still open, some have even increased opening hours. Suffolk Libraries has strived to make improvements and innovations, whilst offering a diverse range of services and there are now even more activities in libraries. We may have to make difficult decisions but we are still committed to doing everything we can to protect local library services which we know mean so much to their communities.”
Alison Wheeler, Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, said: “We have been warning that further cuts would be challenging and as we have less money, we will have to make further savings. We want to approach these challenges in the right way, by carrying out a review to help us make a longer-term plan We also intend to listen to people. We have built up trust and support in the community and we want as many people as possible to have their say.
“We must be realistic; staffing is our biggest cost so it is likely there won’t be as many jobs in the future. However, we want to reassure people as much as we can – we do not anticipate that any changes we have to make will include library closures, handing over libraries to volunteers or charging for what the law or our contract says must be free. Our review is likely to take several months and until we’ve done that we can’t say what changes we’ll have to make.”
There will also be events at Ipswich, Beccles and Bury St Edmunds Libraries where people can talk to library staff or fill in the survey.
Tony Brown added, “We anticipate that council funding will continue to shrink so we will keep looking for alternative funding to supplement what we get from the county council. Our community groups who support libraries have been a big part of this and have raised thousands of pounds every year which have funded things like refurbishments, equipment in many libraries and the cost of wi-fi.
“We want to do our bit and we are launching ‘Suffolk Libraries Extra’ - a new supporter scheme offering people the chance to make an annual donation to get more involved and help the library service.
“We believe there may be individuals or local businesses out there who may want to become Suffolk Libraries Extra supporters. It won’t affect the service to everyone else, it’ll just mean that for those who feel they can, there’s a way of giving us some extra support. There will be more details about Suffolk Libraries Extra soon but anyone who is interested can get in touch or visit the Extra web page.”