Celebrating 80 years of a public library service in central Sutton Coldfield

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On the 7th March 1937 the first public library in central Sutton Coldfield opened its doors. 80 years of our local public library service is definitely something worth celebrating and so, even though Sutton Coldfield Town Council and Birmingham City Council continue to face-off over the future of our library, we organised a jam-packed day of events, celebrating much of what a library is all about – bringing people together for inspiration, being a place where all are welcome.

In the morning, Zoe Toft, who works in children’s publishing, entertained children and parents alike with an energetic story-reading time, including a pre-publication reading of the forthcoming book The Giant Jumperee, by beloved Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

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Visitors to the library were then treated to some relaxing live music, courtesy of the Artume String Quartet, from the Birminham Conservatoire, who played an entertaining mixture of well-known classical pieces, Disney favourites and arrangements of modern pop songs.

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Local historian Stephen Roberts then delivered a lecture on life in Victorian Birmingham. Stephen has in the past attributed his own academic success and love of history to his time spent in Sutton Coldfield library as a local school boy.

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In the afternoon, local author BB Taylor treated a group a pre-school children from local nursery group Playtime Nursery (Rectory Road) to some of her own animal stories; along with surprise appearances from the animals themselves including a hamster, a tortoise and even (in what we believe is a first for Sutton Coldfield library) a skunk!

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The day was rounded off by a storytelling session by local storyteller Jenna Catton, who thrilled grown-ups and children alike with her improvised tales.

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Over the course of the day more than one hundred people came an enjoyed birthday cakes donated by volunteers and hot and cold drinks from pop-up coffee and events catering business Cart & Carriage Events.

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A number of town councillors also came along to enjoy the events and to attempt to build bridges with Library Lobby campaigners after the town council voted on Tuesday 28th March to only release £30,000 of emergency funding for the library, jeopardising delicate negotiations with Birmingham City Council.

Under proposals published in October, Birmingham City Council had intended to close Sutton library on 1st April 2017. But after very nearly 6,000 petition signatures, campaigning by The Library Lobby and the prospect of emergency funding from Sutton Coldfield Town Council, a temporary reprieve was granted. Initially, when it was believed that the Town Council would contribute £150,000, City Council had promised to keep the library open until 31st August. But with only £30,000 released by Town Council the library may have only been given a lifeline until the end of April.

Timeline
March 1937: first public library in Sutton opens on The Parade.
December 1974: new library opens in the Red Rose Centre.
August 2016: Birmingham City Council buys the Red Rose Centre.
October 2016: Birmingham City Council earmarks library for closure.
January 2017: Sutton Coldfield Town Council allocates £150,000 to help keep the library open.
February 2017: Talks between Town and City Councils regarding long-term solution and funding.
28th March 2017: Town Council votes to release only £30,000 of allocated funds due to perceived lack of progress by City Council regarding repairs and marketing of vacant commercial space.
31st March 2017: 80th anniversary celebrations and events at the library.
1st April 2017: library remains open, but its future remains uncertain.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who made our celebrations on Friday possible; The Artume Quartet, Stephen Roberts, Cart & Carriage, BB Taylor, Jenna Catton, and everyone who donated cake and helped spread the word about the event. A very big thank you too to all the librarians, past and present, who have worked in Sutton Coldfield library over the years. You work tirelessly and, in recent times, under very stressful conditions, but we value the service you provide immeasurably.

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