Sunday, 20 August 2017

Library’s future secured but part-time staff to go

PART-TIME members of staff at Sonning Common library are to be made redundant in order to keep the facility open.

PART-TIME members of staff at Sonning Common library are to be made redundant in order to keep the facility open.

Volunteers will help fill the gaps and manager Rosemary Dunstan will have her hours extended so she is always on duty.

The library in Grove Road will continue to be open 25 hours a week to the public and for another 10-and-a-half for the exclusive use of Sonning Common Primary School. The deal has been agreed by the Friends of Sonning Common Library and Oxfordshire County Council, which decided to cut staff funding by half.

Ros Varnes, who formed the campaign group, said: “It’s a positive development.

“Initially our campaign was about preventing the library from closing but when we discovered it was to stay open our attention turned to ensuring that there was an adequate service provided for Sonning Common.

“We wanted a professional member of staff there whenever it was open. There’s no change in Rosemary being the library manager but she will be there all the time.

“Overall we’re happy with this. As long as volunteers come forward, Sonning Common library should have a viable future.” The school pays £8,000 a year towards the library’s running costs and this was key to the council agreeing the deal.

Ms Varnes said: “Sonning Common is a special case because of the close relationship with the school and the fact the library is used by the school and the community.

“A village of this size needs to have a library service that’s up to the required standard.”

Parish council chairman Douglas Kedge said: “The original standpoint of the county council was less generous but because of the involvement of the school, which they emphasised, they have agreed that whenever there’s a volunteer present they will also have a professional member of staff there.

“That’s highly commendable and a very reasonable outcome. Redundancies are always sad but that’s a matter for the county council. It’s their decision. In an ideal world we would have no closures and no change.”

Chris Hirst, headteacher at Sonning Common Primary School, said: “This is the set-up we have currently and it’s excellent news to hear that this will remain.

“We support the promotion of literacy in Sonning Common and beyond. The working relationship between the school and the library is a huge asset.”

Simon Kernick, an author from Shiplake, said: “In this day and age, when all these cuts are coming, just the fact that the library is saved is reason for celebration.

“It’s sad that there’s going to be redundancies but clearly it could have been worse. They could have closed the library but at least it’s now reasonably well-staffed.”

In 2011, the library was one of 20 out of 43 in Oxfordshire from which the county council planned to withdraw all funding.

More than 200 people took part in a demonstration outside the library using the campaign slogan “Save Our Library”. The council eventually decided to only withdraw half the funding from 16 libraries, including those in Sonning Common, Woodcote, Goring, Benson and Watlington.

Carol Viney, who used to represent the Sonning Common ward on the county council, said: “I knew we would have to use volunteers at some point. When we had complaints about the pavements and weeds growing all over the place a group was formed called the Village Gardeners, who have done a great job.

“Maybe the library will be the same and become more of a community hub, even though it will be run by a professional librarian. In that way, it may well benefit from being more of a community facility.”

A county council spokesman said: “The changes to staffing arrangements at Sonning Common library relate to a county-wide approach to securing the future of library services in Oxfordshire against a background of significant national funding pressures affecting all councils.

“Despite these challenges, and following an extensive public consultation in 2011, the council approved a proposal to keep all the county’s libraries open, with a shift towards staff in some libraries, including Sonning Common, being supported by volunteers.

“The changes taking place at Sonning Common library are part of a county-wide picture. We are still working with the local community to determine exactly how these changes will be implemented.”

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