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Letters - William Salt Library 'only one of its kind left in England'

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

By Mary Dodkins

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THE WILLIAM Salt Library in Stafford is under threat of closure. This is the only Library left of its kind in England, and most probably Europe.

The County Librarian, Joanna Terry, has posted on line a consultation document as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for an extension to the current Record Office in Stafford, to move both the collections from the William Salt Library and Lichfield Record Office.

No figures have been given that this new storage space will be sufficient, we are just meant to accept Ms Terry's word. Already she has admitted that there are a number of documents now being stored at an exterior QB storage, sited near the County Showground. Nothing has been said to allay fears that if this extension does not meet requirements, that many of Staffordshire's finest historical documents will be stored at this facility.

The consultation will run to January 31, 2014. An open day was held at Stafford with two at Lichfield, which is because until now, the closure of Lichfield Record Office has never been openly admitted.

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Ms Terry has taken to personally answering questions on the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage page on Face Book.

The Library is a registered charity (no. 528570) and is supported by Staffordshire County Council. It is administered by an independent trust and run in close conjunction with the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service. The core of the Library is the huge collection of printed books, pamphlets, manuscripts, drawings, watercolours, and transcripts built up by William Salt (1808-1863), a London banker. The Library continues to collect and preserve printed books, printed ephemera, pamphlets and illustrative material relating to Staffordshire for present and future generations.

The library's collections represent an outstanding resource for the study of local and family history in Staffordshire and are available for consultation by the public in the reading rooms free of charge.

The present day WSL story is an interesting one. There are the Trustees who own the building, and the Friends who raise money for additions to the collection, restoration of items, shelving and anything else the librarian wishes for the library.

The two were very separate bodies, until the Trustees needed help a few years ago for the 135 Appeal. This was to celebrate 135 years since the library was founded.

Together they raised £43,000 for the preservation and conservation of the books in the library. This could not have been done without the Friends funding the scheme as they are the side with the money in the bank, which has come from fund-raising and a legacy

At some stage in early 2012, Councillor Ian Parry who is a county council co-opted trustee and Ms Terry decided that they would cut costs.

The Trustees have the county council locked into a solid 99-year full repairing lease on the current building, which if you take a hard look even from the outside, is in a sorry state of repair.

This is the main driving force of this whole battle. The cost of bringing the building up to the correct condition, regardless of the collection, must be by now prohibitive. A strong case for negligence can be lobbied at both the trustees and the CC.

The first the Friends or the public knew about the proposed moving of the collection was in February 2013, when the trustees chairman, Robin Manners went to the press.

This caused havoc, and the Friends demanded a meeting, which was held, and well attended, in February 2013.

It became apparent at this meeting, that Robin Manners had accepted what Councillor Parry and Jo Terry had said about the state of the collection being in danger at the current location, and there never was an alternative plan. Although if you view the report (a copy can be obtained in paper form only from the county librarian) it clearly states that whilst the building and the conditions are not ideal, the collection is in no immediate danger. So why the hurry?

The proposed extension to the Record Office was told to the Friends in May 2013, but no further contact has been made. The current bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is being done in the name of the County Council, not the Trustees.

The Trustees have never been brought to account. Nor does there seem to be any means in place, to do this. They self appoint, they are not answerable to anyone, no figures are published, no records available, except for out of date Charity Commission returns.This is no longer acceptable.

Why have they not used the lease as a bargaining chip? Why has the building been allowed to enter such a state of disrepair that the ceiling to Ms Terry's office caved in last year?

The Collection is worth several million pounds, which the Trustees seem to be handing over to the County Council.

The link to the survey is http://bit.ly/19u3aUt

We are urging people to vote against these proposals.

From Mary Dodkins

Chairman of Staffordshire Heritage Group,

Eccleshall

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