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‘Libraries are not just about books’ - leader’s goal to transform view of service

PUBLISHED: 07:06 01 November 2018 | UPDATED: 07:27 01 November 2018

Bruce Leeke, chief executive of Suffolk Libraries. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Bruce Leeke, chief executive of Suffolk Libraries. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

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Libraries in Suffolk must do a better job of showing how they enrich people’s lives beyond loaning books, their leader has said.

Bruce Leeke, chief executive of Suffolk Libraries. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNBruce Leeke, chief executive of Suffolk Libraries. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bruce Leeke, who took over as chief executive of Suffolk Libraries earlier this year, said he believes branches across the county have a transformative impact on people’s lives.

“Whether it be helping people find a job or helping with social skills, we can help make your life that little bit better,” he said.

As well as being able to borrow books, places like Ipswich County Library offer a Top Time activities group for older people, while libraries at Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds hold computer courses for people at different skill levels.

“We’ve spent thousands of hours to help children’s literacy and help people take that first step to getting a job,” Mr Leeke added.

“We often provide a place for people to come if they just want to think and reflect.”

However the service has faced challenges in recent times, with figures from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request showing 60,000 fewer visits across all Suffolk Libraries compared to four years ago.

“We’re finding that one of our main challenges is that people have very preconceived ideas about what is encompassed in a library,” said Mr Leeke.

“From speaking to people, it tends to be about books.

“Books are a massive part of what we do but there are many other things.

“However we have such a plethora of services it can be quite bewildering and we need to work better at signposting people to what would work for them.”

“We need to much more clearly present what it is we actually do.

“A lot of it is about signposting and making it much clearer and much more immediately obvious what we provide.

“We’re looking at all sorts of ways to focus that offer much more clearly.”

Although the FoI figures showed fewer people visiting libraries in Suffolk overall, Mr Leeke said there had been an increase in the number of people attending activities and events.

The number of events has increased from 9,534 to 11,120 and to 12,659 in the past three years, with the number of attendances going from 155,876 to 175,561 and 182,298 in the same period.

“What that tells us is that people are spending longer in the library,” he added.

“I think people in Suffolk should be really proud of their library service.

“We really want to help people in Suffolk understand that it’s their library service and whatever we can do to make it more inspiring for them, we will do.”

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