Councillor ‘prepared to go to the barricades’ over plan to close town library

Cllr Martin Foley leading the protest in Chelmsford. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Cllr Martin Foley leading the protest in Chelmsford. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Residents of Thaxted joined a demonstration outside County Hall in Chelmsford to protest against the proposed closure of the town’s library.

Essex County Council is proposing to close 25 libraries across the county, including those in Stansted and Thaxted, to save some £2million and residents are being asked to have a say in a major consultation on the plans.

District councillor for Thaxted, Councillor Martin Foley, and Dr Mike Tayler led the march on Saturday.

“We thought the best idea was to take our message to County Hall and join in unity with other libraries,” Cllr Foley said. “We think the £2million cuts in Essex is, relatively speaking, a drop in the ocean, considering the damage it’s going to cause. I know the council is in a financial mess, but that’s nothing to do with libraries.”

With the Tourist Information Centre and parish council offices in the same building as the library in Thaxted, Cllr Foley says it is a model library in the way it has adapted to technological changes and financial constraints.

“But we just don’t want to keep the books, we want to have a librarian there for people to ask questions,” said Cllr Foley. “Librarians are particularly important – they are like a walking Google. People without computers will not have access to library services if they’re shut. We need somewhere for people to go.”

But the county council says traditional library use in Essex has collapsed in the last 10 years and there are 31 per cent fewer people using libraries in Essex now than there were in 2008.

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“Even if it is the minority, we should be looking after that minority,” Cllr Foley says. “Minorities might have to use foodbanks, but do we penalise them? And it’s a minority of money we’re talking about.”

The council says future draft proposals aim to build online library services with fewer, but better libraries and more community-run libraries, but Cllr Foley thinks a full-time librarian is a fundamental part of the service.

“Regardless of what happens, I’m sure we will come up with some sort of community library but what we want is a librarian – the library is used for many, many things and we will continue to develop it.

“You can’t put a cost on a library – with no librarian to help people with information about books, it really does devalue what you’re trying to do,” he says.

“The librarian goes with the books.

“We’re willing to go to the barricades for this.”

MP Kemi Badenoch visited the library recently and Cllr Foley is urging her to help change the possibility of its closure.

“Our MP came in with warm words, but my message to Kemi is to influence her political party to follow up with warm actions. We’re hoping she has come in to help and change the possibility of it closing,” he said.

“Libraries are more important nowadays for people’s health and wellbeing – I haven’t marched for years for anything, but it was invigorating to have people of all sorts of political orientations. It was quite inspiring to see that. People are angry, but they’re also motivated.”

Cllr Foley says he has noticed more people using the libraries since the consultation launched and believes the funding will be found to keep Thaxted library open as long as people “sit up” and realise another vacant building could appear in the high streets.

“I think if people get behind this, readers united will not be defeated,” he said. “The money will be found. It might not be the majority, but the people who are using the library get so much from it – the elderly, people who can’t access information, children. People recognise that its closure will leave another hole in the high streets.

“Libraries are valuable assets for individuals and the wider community. People need to sit up and realise something is going wrong.

“I stand in solidarity with every library in Uttlesford.”