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Call for small number of Norfolk libraries to reopen is rejected

PUBLISHED: 10:37 14 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:37 14 May 2020

A call for some of Norfolk's libraries, including this one in Great Yarmouth, has been rejected. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

A call for some of Norfolk's libraries, including this one in Great Yarmouth, has been rejected. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

Archant

A call has been made for a small number of Norfolk’s libraries to be reopened, but council bosses have said regulations mean they cannot yet do so.

Norfolk county councillor Mick Castle. Picture by James BassNorfolk county councillor Mick Castle. Picture by James Bass

All of the county’s libraries have been closed since the middle of March, due to the government’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

But, with prime minister Boris Johnson easing some of those restrictions this week, Independent Norfolk county councillor Mick Castle tabled a question to the council’s Conservative controlled cabinet if it might be possible to get some of the libraries open again.

Mr Castle, who represents Great Yarmouth North and Central at County Hall, said libraries were an “essential service” for many people.

He said access to computers was “an absolute requirement for folks applying for and maintaining eligibility to state benefits”.

Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for communities and partnerships. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for communities and partnerships. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

And he asked if the council would “undertake to seek re-opening of at least one public library in each main conurbation , or significant market town, to enable local people to access these services within a safe social distancing regime”.

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However, Margaret Dewsbury, the cabinet member for communities and partnerships, said, while she recognised the importance of libraries, the council could not yet reopen them.

She said: “The UK government regulation in relation to COVID-19 specifically mentions libraries as places that must be closed, and we need to ensure that when restrictions are lifted we put in place measures to keep staff and public safe.

“We will follow the guidance of Public Health England in doing this.

“In the meantime, detailed recovery plans for libraries are being drawn up, with computer access for the most vulnerable being one of the most important functions to recover first.”

Mrs Dewsbury added that, during the closure period, library service staff have been redeployed into supporting food distribution, buying personal protective equipment and coordinating the volunteer effort across the county.

She said they had also been investing in e-books and e-magazines and setting up an online library activity offer.

All borrowed items are being automatically renewed.

Also, people are not being charged overdue fees, and existing charges are not increasing.


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