Proposals to amalgamate libraries will reduce service to the public – IMPACT

Breda Connell, Laois branch
Breda Connell, Laois branch

The issue of library amalgamations was high on the agenda at IMPACT’s Local government conference today, Thursday 21st May, as branches from Dublin, Laois, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Cork, and Cavan brought motions about the proposal to bring the number of library services in the country from 32 to 23.

The counties involved in these proposals are Cavan/Monaghan, Laois/Offaly, Longford/Westmeath, Carlow/Kilkenny, Cork City/County, and Sligo/Leitrim/Roscommon.

The amalgamation would mean that whilst money is provided for the service by one local authority, another would manage the service.

Mr Nolan national secretary with IMPACT explained that the only direct cost saving outlined in the proposals are from the suppression of a county librarian post. Mr Nolan said “no cost benefit analysis has been carried out, whilst the merger of two or three library services in this way will result in a loss of expertise at the highest level and ultimately lead to a reduced service to the public.

“It is clear from the number of counties that have brought forward motions regarding library amalgamations that the issue deeply resonates with even those outside of the proposals sphere of influence. The importance of libraries in the community cannot be underestimated, and should not be undervalued.

“This proposal is a centrally conceived proposal from civil and public servants in Dublin who don’t appreciate the role of libraries in rural Ireland” he said.

Tom Brown is secretary of the Galway branch and sits on the union’s libraries staff committee. He said “we’ve asked the Local Government Management Agency to provide an analysis of the savings these amalgamations would provide but they haven’t been able to deliver any.

“Staff are understandably concerned about the effect the proposal would have on their terms and conditions, but their greatest worry is that there will be a denigration of an invaluable service that is the lifeline of rural communities.

“From the start the employer side hasn’t come up with a rational argument for the amalgamation, so it is our fear that this major upheaval will take place without a clear aim or being thoroughly thought through.

“The proposals are already having a tangible impact on service provision as there are currently 14 county librarian posts unfilled at the moment, which we can only assume is in preparation of the amalgamations.

Breda Connell, from the Laois branch said “the amalgamations of these library services will lead to a tiered service nationally and cutting county librarian posts and sharing library management teams across counties will have an adverse effect on services.

“The knowledge and skills of qualified librarians are critical to ensuring quality library services. I believe that the citizens of Laois deserve the same access to a professionally led service as those living in other counties. Why, if you live in Laois should you be entitled only to a part-time county librarian, whereas if you live in Kildare, Meath, or Kerry you are entitled to a service led by a full time county librarian? It doesn’t make sense.

“The library service in Ireland needs change and reform. But not this type of change. We need to invest in staff, in dedicated and focused training, and in stock and resources to help engage with communities and offer them a service that suits their needs.

“We are not afraid of change in libraries, but the change that is on offer here with these amalgamations will de-professionalise library services and reduce the quality of service for the community.

“The government needs to stop talking about the cost of libraries and instead start understanding their value” she said.

A number of emergency motions were also passed by conference, including one which called on the local government division to act on the fact that library management had begun to implement recommendations around the proposals to amalgamate “without engagement with this union”.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly, TD addressed the conference in the morning of the 21st May and said that the reforms, while well intentioned, would be revisited. “I’m committing to sit down with IMPACT and talk about the library service” he said.