A packed public meeting held in St Just last night has sent a strong message to Cornwall Council, ‘hands off St Just library’.
The public meeting was organised by local Cornwall Councillor, Sue James, who promised to take the message to County Hall on behalf of local residents.
More than 100 residents crammed into St Just Methodist Chapel’s meeting room to hear about Cornwall Council’s plans to slash 9-hours from St Just Library’s already reduced opening hours. If the council’s plan goes ahead in June, St Just library, west Cornwall’s only rural library, will only open on two half days and one full day each week.
Councillor Sue James said: “When I learnt of the proposal to reduce the opening hours of my local Library, I knew local people would not be happy. I then learnt that, unlike the proposed changes to the mobile library service, there was to be no public consultation. So I decided, off my own back, to arrange a public meeting so that local people could have the chance to have their say.”
She added, Over 100 people came and told me, loud and clear, they are fed up with the cuts hitting us as a rural area more heavily than the major towns. They told me they want the hours at St Just Library preserved and the skilled staff, who make the Library what it is, kept. One person compared it to the passion of the community to keep the car parks free; a battle that the Town Council helped them to win.
David James, proprietor of The Cook Book cafe and second hand book store, who attended the meeting, said: “I run a book shop and cafe with my wife, and I have always loved books. In an age of austerity it’s a principle source of books for young people.
He added, the lonely, vulnerable, isolated and frail can go to St Just Library and be safe, warm and looked after by a professional service.
Rachel Newman emphasised the important role she believes the library staff play in the local community. “St Just Library is special to me because of the wonderful staff and personal relationships you have with those staff. That’s what makes it so special to lots of people.”
She added, one local librarian had gone as far as looking after her frozen Christmas turkey for her when she was without a freezer!
Concern the education of young people could be hit by the council’s planned cost saving exercise was echoed by a number of people at the meeting.
Local nursery school teacher, Virginia Davies, said she had attended the public meeting to represent parents of small children.
Mrs Davies added: “I am always encouraging parents to read and share books with their children because that will have a massive impact on their literacy in later years.”
“The library is a crucial and vital part of our community,” said local mother, Abigail Reynolds. “With a very young family we attend the library on an almost daily basis. By cutting the number of hours it would simply jeopardise our children’s education and broader sense of the world.”
Another local resident was concerned about the impact the reduction in library opening hours would have on community groups and the role the library plays as a community hub.
Kate Beckly said: “As well as providing books, it’s so much more. It provides internet access and 9 community groups use St Just Library as a place to meet every week. They may not be able to meet if the library opening hours are cut.”
The groups using the library cover a broad range of ages from the pre-school ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ to the creative group and groups for older people, such as the Spinners and Knitting groups.
Miss Beckly added, “I also believe, of all the libraries being cut, St Just’s library serves one of the most rural isolated communities and our hours are already less than places elsewhere of a similar size. With cuts in bus services and increased fares its difficult for many people to get to St Ives and Penzance.”
George Bodilly, 75, said: “The library is important to me because I use it a lot, I am concerned that if they cut the hours, eventually the library will close altogether. I know people are buying tablets and Kindles, but to hold a book in your hand is a lot more important than a Kindle. I like books, being a local preacher, I would.”