Liz William's Speech on Libraries to the County Council

Dr Liz Willams questioning
Cllr Judy Terry
Dr Elizabeth Williams from Rosehill Readers spoke alongside me at the County Council today, here is the text of her speech...

Madam Chairperson Members of the County Council, Members of the public.

My name is Liz Williams and I live in Ipswich and I am here today to represent over three
and a half thousand people who signed the Rosehill library petition. Rosehill library on Tomlin road is the one that I use regularly, the one that I take my daughter to. But despite our petition, and a total in excess of 35 000 signatures across the county, I am not sure how much longer I will be able to say that Rosehill library is my local library. The 2011 Review of Libraries, released to the public last Thursday, says, and I quote:

The long-term approach to library provision in Ipswich and Lowestoft, would not require the remaining libraries in Ipswich (Rosehill, Stoke and Westbourne) and Lowestoft (Oulton Broad) to stay open.

The report goes on to say that the council:
…would be willing to discuss further with community groups how to minimise the costs of running these libraries, and how they might be able to stay open and reduce costs. (page 19)
So, lots of uncertainty ‘would not require’, ‘would be willing to discuss’, ‘how they might be able to stay open’. Hardly an unequivocal reprieve.

And what about the other libraries? As James pointed out in his speech 24 major centres and towns will each have a library- although these will, if possible, be co-located. What this will mean for existing libraries in terms of infrastructure and location is difficult to say. The remaining libraries 26 in total, if you exclude the four that Suffolk county council says are no longer ‘required’, face, I would suggest, an uncertain future. The council proposes four service options. These range from allowing existing libraries to continue, in a shared space, to the use of a mobile library, to community outreach. But these proposals raise more questions than they answer, including questions about funding and the future of library staff.

It should for example be noted that the mobile library service will also potentially be undergoing a review and consultation in coming months which could see fortnightly visits reduced to monthly. The third option is community outreach- taking library services to people and bringing people to a library. Again the details are vague. Does this mean that a library in the future in Suffolk may actually be a transport system? Not a place but a route or means of getting from A to B? Who knows? So many questions remain unanswered.

So, to return to the petition and the original consultation document which was released in January this spoke of 30% cuts and library closures if community groups didn’t come forward to save them. Juxtaposed with the information outlined above I am left wondering what has been achieved by the 35000 signature petition that we are debating here today, a petition which spoke of a wish to retain the library service as it is and to look for savings within the current system- something that has never been considered by the county council.

35000 people did not sign a petition supporting a change in management structures, cuts in the budget for buying books, job losses and a wholesale divestment to community groups. It was in protest against these proposals as they were presented in the consultation document that the petition was collected.

And where does the consultation document fit into this? As James has just made clear a resounding 80% of respondents did not support the changes it proposed. As we learnt from the Scrutiny Committee some of the bids were made under duress- not submitted because of support for or commitment to the idea of divestment, community groups running libraries and so forth. No, they were submitted by groups which felt that if they did not submit something then there library would close. We heard at lot at the Scrutiny Committee meeting about ‘the gun to the head’ which impelled groups to action. Is this what ‘consultation’ and good governance looks like in Suffolk?

And this for me is one of the ironies of this consultation process- something that the 35000 signature petition throws into sharp relief. The review and the three proposals that will be presented to the council cabinet next Tuesday use this small number of bids to support the county councils proposals. The vast majority of the consultation responses rejected this approach, 35000 people signed petitions rejecting this approach.

Meanwhile, those of us who have tried to raise legitimate concerns about the consultation process, about the problems with its methodology, about the research design which did not employ a sampling technique, which failed to include vulnerable, marginalized and equality groups so that their voices have not be heard by anybody, have in turn struggled to have our voices heard. Efforts by the Suffolk Library Campaign Umbrella Group to raise these concerns at the Scrutiny Committee were blocked.
And then there is the question that underpins much of this, namely the question of legitimacy. If our libraries are, in the future to be run by ‘community groups’ how will these groups be selected and regulated. To whom will they be accountable? In Rosehill we have two ‘community groups’. One The Friends of Rosehill Library has put in a bid to run the library. The other Rosehill Readers, of which I am a member, has campaigned against the divestment plan and against the idea of community groups running libraries in the place of our esteemed and valued library staff. So, which one of these groups is the true voice of Rosehill library users? Who will decide and what will this decision mean for local democracy and good governance.
35 000 signatures. We have spoken loudly. The county council says that it has been listening. But I wonder what has it actually heard?

Thank You.

libraries 2680741795454726545

Home item

New Blog

This is my old blog, new posts can be found at

Blog Archive