Barnstaple Library provider defends claims service is ‘at breaking point’

Barnstaple Library.

Barnstaple Library. - Credit: Archant

The company in charge of Barnstaple Library has defended claims from a former employee that the service is ‘mismanaged’ and ‘at breaking point’.

Barnstaple Library.

Barnstaple Library. - Credit: Archant

Emily Sibthorpe spent 12 years working in libraries across North Devon, but was made redundant last year as operator Libraries Unlimited underwent ‘restructure’.

In an open letter to Libraries Unlimited South West, she claimed the Barnstaple library had ‘lost its way’; saying resources were being mismanaged, and services ‘unnecessarily eroded and destroyed’.

She also claimed the restructured service was ‘management heavy’ in proportion to the amount of ‘front-line staff, and secretive about its day-to-day running.

But the claims have been refuted by Libraries Unlimited, who said the service is run in line with the charity’s financial regulations and policies, and insist staff are well managed and supported.

In her letter, Ms Sibthorpe said: “Growing up loving libraries I have been dismayed by the changes to a library service I have known and been a part of since childhood.

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“I understand the need for cuts and I would not be writing this if I did not see my local library services being unnecessarily eroded and destroyed.

“The library is being taken to breaking point and resources are being mismanaged. This relates to staff as well as to stock and hardware.”

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“Staff are micromanaged and squashed, wasting their intelligence, knowledge, experience, ability and potential.

“Previously dedicated and happy staff are demoralised and describe working there as ‘just a job now’.

“For years the library has relied on goodwill from staff. I have seen it stripped of goodwill.”

Libraries Unlimited is a social enterprise, and was commissioned to run the service by Devon County Council in 2016, with the aim of safeguarding the 50 libraries across Devon and saving £1.5million.

Earlier this year it opened The FabLab in Barnstaple Library, a creative space with digital and design equipment including a 3D printer.

A spokesman for Libraries Unlimited said the team at the Barnstaple library is well managed and supported, and the service works in line with the charity’s financial regulations and policies.

The statement said the library, the second busiest in Devon, plays ‘an important role in meeting the changing needs of local communities’ and is a hub for library, learning and digital services.

The statement added: “The team, many of whom have been working in Devon’s libraries for a number of years, is well managed and supported, and resources are managed in line with our charity’s financial regulations and broader policies.

“To adapt to the changing ways that people are engaging with libraries and in line with budget reductions, the team at Barnstaple Library has been reviewed in the past year.

“This has focused on ensuring we have clear roles and responsibilities with strong and effective local management and leadership of the library.”

“We have staff and community trustees on our Board, an elected Staff Forum and we have regular meetings, AGMs, collaboration days and our annual staff conference, where we bring as many of the Libraries Unlimited team members together to share ideas about the future of the organisation.”

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