Support partnership shows looking after town's library is no 'fools' errand...

Friends of Ottery Library (FOOL) volunteers 

Friends of Ottery Library (FOOL) volunteers - Credit: Ottery Library

Josefina Gori, of Ottery St Mary Friends of Phyllis Baxter Action Group, writes for the Herald.

Phyllis Baxter

Phyllis Baxter - Credit: Terry ife

In 2014 Devon County Council announced its intention of cutting overall library expenditure by £1.5 million by 2017 which put our local library at risk of being closed.

James Goddard, an Ottery resident, came forward with the idea of creating a group of Friends of Ottery Library (FOOL), quickly joined by individuals, local groups, schools, the Chamber of Commerce and OSM Town Council, in order to save the library.

The group kept campaigning tirelessly. After numerous negotiations to find a new location for the library and an extraordinary Council Meeting to authorise the then Deputy Mayor Ian Holmes to bid at auction for the old NatWest bank, the new library finally opened on Saturday 25th February 2017.

One of the Friends’ most important functions today is to keep the Library open at times when the professional Library Supervisors are not available. So, on two days of the week, trained library volunteers from among the Friends open and run the Library, dealing with customer queries, re-shelving returned books and generally keeping the Library in order. This enables the Library to remain open for at least some hours on each day of the week except Sunday.

FOOL also supports the Library in other ways, whether by financial or hands-on assistance. The Friends run events to publicise the Library or to raise funds where there is a need for extra expenditure associated with Library activities, for example competition prizes, materials for art or craft sessions, IT equipment and so on. Personal help is given when needed for the regular book sales, staffing stands at local fairs and exhibitions, organising the Library’s entry in the annual church Christmas tree festival and wherever else extra hands are needed. Coming right up to date, FOOL recently arranged a talk by well-known local author Jane Corry in the Institute.

We have been fortunate in Ottery to have had an excellent and productive relationship between FOOL and our Library Supervisors, first Jane Cordy and then, for the past four years, Xanthe Waite. Xanthe brought energy and ideas in abundance, in addition to her expertise. Her deserved reward however was to be promoted to a larger Library elsewhere in Devon and, at the time of writing, her replacement has yet to be appointed.

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Meanwhile, Kerry and Annette, the professional Library Assistants, have done a first class job running the Library and its numerous activities. The effects of the pandemic are now receding and Ottery Library’s work with young readers in particular has brought dividends, with its young reader statistics moving well ahead of the average for the county.

The digital instruction sessions have also proved very popular, there is a book club, Lego club, craft and cuppa sessions, bounce and rhyme for very young children and even baby weighing! The Library is clearly now operating as an important community facility for the town.

We spoke to Martin Stockley, who recently stepped down as Secretary of FOOL after four years in the post and he confirmed the importance the co-operation between FOOL and Ottery Library.

He said: “FOOL work with the librarians to help make the library service available to all and to develop the library as a community centre - for books and reading of course, but also in many other ways”.

“The enthusiasm, hard work and imagination of the Friends right from the outset has been a major factor in Ottery Library’s success. We’d still like to have more active members, so if you are interested in helping your Library flourish, drop in and pick up an application form to join FOOL.

"You’ll not just be helping the Library itself, but also the many people - including children and young people - to whom the Library provides support and enjoyment.”

We at the Friends of Phyllis Baxter Action Group would like to thank Martin and all at FOOL for their commitment to the continuity of our Library and encourage our residents to support them so we all can say - our library is here to stay.