Library campaigners in Essex are gearing up for a county wide day of action next month, as more than 1,600 people sign a petition against plans for volunteers to run some facilities.
Protest group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) accused Essex County Council of closing libraries “by stealth” last month after they announced plans for community groups to take over parts of the service. Essex County Council had originally proposed closing 25 out of its 74 libraries but backed down and instead plans to hand some facilities to volunteers.
Successful community groups will be given £18,000 in funding spread over three years, alongside an initial book donation, reading materials and support to train volunteers. No decision has been made on how many libraries will be run by volunteers.
Now, 1,654 people have signed a petition rallying against the plans for community groups to take over the service in parts of the county.
The petition reads: "Of the libraries threatened with closure, we know that some 80 groups have expressed an interest in running them. These are developers, parish councils, churches etc, but ALL will be run by volunteers in a non dedicated building. Very little funding will be available with just 250 books per community library, changed every 12 weeks and the hours of opening will be dictated by whenever the community building and volunteers are available. However good the volunteers are they cannot replicate the skill, expertise and professionalism of the present paid library staff.
"So we ask you to sign our petition to Save our Librarians and ensure that Essex County Council continues to provide the library service which it is legally obliged to. Essex needs fully staffed libraries. The people of Essex have and continue to pay for this service. They deserve a properly funded, properly resourced and properly staffed local library."
SOLE will hold a day of action on Saturday 28th September with a 'love our library' street party to take place in South Street in Manningtree, marches planned in Broomfield and Harlow, while further events will take place in Colchester, Galleywood, Wivenhoe, Shenfield, Castle Point, and Tendring. Other places are expected to also organise events.
Essex County Council said in a statement: “We have listened to what Essex people told us in the consultation and the final strategy reflects this. We will work with our communities, employees and volunteers to ensure that we create a modern library service that is fit for the 21st century, whilst also continuing to explore the opportunities that innovative technology affords and being open to new and creative ideas. We have heard that libraries are not just about books or computers – but that they are spaces too for people to meet, learn and exchange ideas. And we have heard and seen the passion of communities that want to keep a local library. So, we have changed the strategy.
"We will invest in the library service to create new vibrant, modern spaces in council-run libraries in towns, villages and suburbs across the county. And we will work strenuously with local people to set up community-run libraries and provide funding and support to help make them a success. We are convinced that there are better ways to run the service and by working with communities we can keep a library service in every current location. The passion and energy of local people can also revitalise library services and community spaces, bring communities together and help tackle social isolation and loneliness. So, we will keep all libraries open while we work together to transform the service. We are still concerned about the declining use but believe a combination of council-run and community-run libraries offer the best hope to reverse the trend.”