We received the following guest post from John Kelly regarding the public libraries situation in Northern Ireland.
I’m sure many people were disappointed but hardly surprised at the news the funding request to renovate and restore the interior of the Central Library was turned down in accord with the Northern Ireland Assembly budget cuts. It recently had seen it’s exterior restored to it’s former glory at a cost of £1m, so the likelihood of a further £20m was slim if not to say unlikely. To be fair the situation in Northern Ireland isn’t as bad as what is happening in the rest of the UK, but it is my opinion that closure and cutbacks in the Library should be resisted and opposed regardless of the numbers being quoted.
Currently we are waiting to hear about the proposed closure of 10 rural libraries, to many that may not seem like much,especially considering earlier this year speculation had the figure set at 30. Also some would argue if people are not using them, then prudent thinking in these austere times would be to close them, save the money and channel it into the remaining libraries. However anybody who is affected by the cuts, know this will not be the case. Libraries will be expected to perform to the same standard and maintain themselves without any extra money. Irene Knox the Chief Executive of Libraries NI said “We’re obviously disappointed, but we still believe that this building and the tremendous resources that are in it are very important not just to Belfast but to Northern Ireland as a whole. So we are continuing to pursue our plans looking at other possibilities, other potential sources of funding.”
There is a perceived general apathy towards the libraries, and this is what the Government in Westminster is using to defend their decisions. However in Northern Ireland we are faced with the unusual position that the official line is an admission that Library usage is on the rise. So obviously the official line from Libraries NI needed to look at other areas to determine their cuts. So it become more about whether the libraries could deliver a 21st Century service. And it would seem that out of 99 branch libraries throughout Northern Ireland 44 were deemed viable, 21 were deemed viable but would need some refurbishment or newbuilds. Added with the 10 marked out as unviable, this comes to a grand total of 75, leaving a further 24 libraries that were evaluated but don’t seem to be showing up on the Official Report from the 17th February of this year.
Also concerns are being raised that the Dept of Arts & Leisure stipulation relating to the figure of 85% of the population should live within two miles of either fixed or mobile library provision. These concerns seemed to be focussed on the future of the library in Draperstown and it’s suspected closure and relocation to neighbouring Maghera, however it is claimed this will produce a figure of 100% living outside the 2 mile radius. However the official line is that the rural libraries are not being targeted as soft options.
The situation as it stands and Dr David Elliot Chairperson of Libraries NI is keen to make the point that no formal decision has been made yet, the process is continuing and it’s being actively encouraged to be an open process with as much feedback from the public as possible .Irene Knox claims they have listened and will keep listening, but ultimately she states “At the end of the day, the board will make those decisions”.
For some people the issue of closure of the libraries is an emotive one, a vitally important part of modern society and particularly with regard to Northern Ireland. To quote the data.gov.uk site “The services provided by public libraries are capable of giving positive outcomes for a wide variety of enquiries and purposes, including promoting community cohesion, education and well-being”. Something DCAL and Libraries NI need to keep at the forefront of their decision making process.
The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of Voices for the Library