Suffolk Libraries cut many of the free online resources in February and March, 2017 such as the 19th century newspapers, The Times Online archive and the Dictionary of National Biography. For anyone not in education, employment, or training or those in isolated rural communities this is a loss for those doing historical research.
It particularly affects those who are preparing for further education and schoolchildren in Suffolk, because the only way to access those free resources was through the 44 libraries. Students at the University of Suffolk get access for free, yet all those interested in doing research in their own time who cannot afford to study are deprived of such research tools.
Residents of the county cannot subscribe to the online resources as individuals as they can with, for example, Ancestry.co.uk, so Suffolk residents are left without access. The resources were a great help for World War I research, for example. For many older people studying local history these sites improved their quality of life. The Times Online archive said that it was heavily used in this county, yet Suffolk Libraries say it was cut because of low use.
The counties of Essex, Norfolk and Cambridge still seem to have these services on offer to their library users. Suffolk Libraries blames the latest £200,000 cut in funding from Suffolk County Council (SCC) and the IPS* could face a further £230,000 reduction in 2017/18. The council lays responsibility at the management decisions of the IPS running our libraries. Funding for our libraries is now 33% lower than in 2010.
Archives users face similar challenges. They have to pay £1.50 at the Suffolk Record Offices for a single A4 black & white photocopy or £10 for a day photo-licence. Either the Findmypast website or Ancestry.co.uk (but not both) is still available for free to the public at the Record Offices, but use is limited to thirty minutes at a time.
[*Industrial & Provident Society; running the county's libraries as contracted by SCC.]
As we went to press, Arts Council England announced that Suffolk Libraries will have the status of a National Portfolio Organisation for 2018-2022 and will receive £704,000 over this period.