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Transfering a library to the community is not as easy as it sounds

Details of what Suffolk County Council expects it will cost communities to keep their library, if they choose to keep it open rather than let it close, are emerging

Roger McMaster, head of the county libraries, told Debenham Parish Council he estimated it would cost them, or a community group, £17,000 a year.

Debenham is one of 29 libraries in the county threatened by the ultimatum: take  it over or it will be closed.

Mr McMaster said there could be cheaper options. His figure included retention of a library manager, part time as at present. But other part-time staff would be replaced by volunteers.

County Council support would be, he suggested, providing books and IT services.

Debenham Parish Council is considering what it can do and is contacting nearby parish councils. This is a real issue because only about a third of the population served by the library lives in the village.

This year the parish precept costs a Band D taxpayer in Debenham £76.40. In  nearby parishes the figure is much lower — Aspall £0, Winston £8.88, Kenton £3.37, Helmingham £22.33, Monk Soham £19.04, Stonham Aspal £21.60.

The parish councils system is not really designed for situations like this. If Debenham library is saved by the Parish Council there is a real danger that it is achieved by transferring taxation from the county council, which is designed to provide services for a wide area to a parish which is not.

Worse, there is the possibility of double taxation (paying twice for a service) and that issue has been discussed by county council officials.

In Debenham there is a strong sense of community and volunteering which dates from long before the political concept of a “Big Society” was mooted. The Parish Council wants to save the library and many people are coming forward to volunteer. We all want to keep the library here.

I have a lot of doubts about the reliability of data in the county council’s consultation documents, but there are some curious things which emerge from it. The main county library in Ipswich has a “cost per issue” of £5.06, while Debenham at £4.89 is cheaper.

Another comparison: Ipswich library (travel to work area population 315,000) makes 340,000 loans a year. In adjoining Norfolk the library in Norwich (travel to work area population 376,000) makes 1,124,000 loans. Explanations in the comment area below please.



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  1. Andrew Grant-Adamson says

    Thanks for the comment, Morgan. I should have linked this post to an earlier one which had more on the Millenium library.

  2. Morgan says

    Have you seen Norwich Library?

    It explains its phenomenal success in attracting UK record breaking usage. Its hard for any library to compete with that huge complex.

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