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Poll: Should Norfolk County Council be placing donation boxes at Norfolk’s flagship library to boost income?

The Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library in the Forum.
Photo: Paul Hewitt

The Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library in the Forum. Photo: Paul Hewitt

Donation boxes have been placed in Norwich’s flagship library as cash-strapped Norfolk County Council attempts to balance its books.

Norfolk libraries in numbers

15 - the number of books that users can borrow for free, for up to three weeks at a time.

47 - the number of libraries run by Norfolk County Council

10p - the one day overdue charge for a book

£2.10 - the cost of renting a feature film for two nights, as well as renting TV series, music DVDs and new titles for seven nights

4,300,000 - the number of visitors the libraries racked up from 2013 to 2014

4,700,000 - the number of virtual visits in the same year

80p - the cost of renting a CD for one week

6,000,000 - the number of items borrowed from 2013 to 2014

560 - the number of computers across the libraries, including 100 at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

837 - the number of volunteers staffing the service

13 - the number of public mobile library vans calling at around 2,000 stops across the county

And if people dig deep to help the Millennium Library in Norwich, the council will look into putting them into some of the other 46 libraries across Norfolk.

The two boxes are placed near the entrance of the facility at The Forum, with an official sign saying: “We want to keep our libraries in Norfolk open for everyone. If you are a visitor to our area, or a regular library user who wants to help, any donation will be welcome.”

The budget for the Library and Information Service, which welcomed four million visitors last year, was slashed in February from £11.4m in 2013 to 2014 to £10.2m this year.

At the time, it was predicted that the council would axe the amount spent on library books and library staff by £700,000, with further cuts totalling £109,000 planned for mobile libraries.

Jennifer Holland, head of the service, said library bosses had been inspired to install the boxes by users.

“After hearing of the financial difficulties currently being faced by the County Council and Norfolk Library and Information Service, a number of library users told us they would be willing to make donations to help the service raise some income.

“In the summer we put donation boxes at some of our libraries including the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library for people to make donations if they wish to.

“We will be assessing how successful these donations boxes have been with a view to placing them in more libraries in the coming months.”

She added that the boxes were just one of a range of ways being considered to claw back cash.

“We continue to operate a free service at all 47 libraries and mobile libraries in Norfolk. Of course every little helps but we’re not relying on public donations to keep libraries open.

“Introducing donation boxes is just one of many ways that we have looked to generate income for the library service. We have started to charge for some events and activities taking place in libraries and are inviting organisations to sponsor some upcoming events. These are sensible measures given the need to generate more funding.”

But Labour candidate Clive Lewis said he feared the measure could be the start of a “slippery slope”.

“First of all, I think we have to understand that the county council is in economic dire straits. It’s had absolutely massive funding cuts to it - hundreds of millions of pounds. I don’t blame the county council - it’s central government.

“But I think when we have got to a point where we are being asked to donate to keep a library open is scandalous. I think that most people agree that libraries are free to use and open to the public - although the donations are voluntary my fear is that this could be just the beginning. It really shows how desperate things have got and now we have the Conservatives pledging tax cuts. It’s ridiculous.

“They are at breaking point - I find it disgusting that we have had to resort to begging bowls.”

In 2011, library services across Norfolk were reviewed in a bid to fight council cuts and keep branches open.

Although the Millennium library was unaffected, other branches suffered a 10pc cut to opening hours, with staff cuts making up the most of the £1.2m savings.

North Norfolk Labour condidate Denise Burke was a “sad state of affairs”.

“A library should be accessible and free to everyone - we shouldn’t even be asked to help out. We all know why county hall is in the situation it is in - because we have the incinerator hanging around our necks.”

The county council has been left turning out its pockets to find cash to pay off the £30m bill for the ill-fated King’s Lynn burner scheme, which was scrapped earlier this year.

The Millenium Library reopened in 2001 after a blaze ripped through the previous library in 1994. It is believed a fault in the wiring caused an electrical fire in a bookshelf.

What do you think of the donation boxes? Contact reporter Lauren Cope on lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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