Staffless library proposals put child protection at risk

Seamus Ryan
Seamus Ryan, Clare branch

Evidence concealed by local authority management shows that plans to roll out staffless libraries in 23 locations across Ireland could undermine child protection protocols and put young people at risk, according to IMPACT. The union’s local government conference in Letterkenny heard this evening (Wednesday) that the Local Government Management Association (LGMA), which represents local authority management, had concealed six incidents of children being left unsupervised in staffless libraries during a pilot carried out in Offaly. The incidents were later reported under Freedom of Information legislation.

IMPACT delegates backed motions opposing staffless libraries on the grounds that the move left library staff unable to meet their child protection responsibilities, as outlined in guidance from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  

Seamus Ryan of IMPACT’s Clare branch outlined a range of child protection and health and safety risks linked to public buildings that remain open to the public without staff in place. “There were six reported incidents of children being left unsupervised in libraries when this reckless programme was piloted. The lurch to staffless libraries is cuts-driven, overlooks the many risks involved, and undermines our commitments and responsibilities under child protection legislation. If a child or young person enters a library during a staffless opening period, there is an automatic, immediate and unacceptable level of risk,” he said.

IMPACT national secretary Peter Nolan said there is also a fire safety risk with staffless libraries as there is nobody to conduct an evacuation as currently exists in all public premises.

IMPACT has criticised a management report on the pilots for failing to include details of anti-social behaviour in staffless libraries. Details released under Freedom of Information legislation last year revealed that 111 library users in Offaly had their library membership temporarily withdrawn because of transgressions including ‘tailgating,’ or passing entry cards to unauthorised people who could then access the library. One person had their library card permanently withdrawn for being drunk, while six incidents of unsupervised children were also reported.

The union’s Cork branch said omissions in the LGMA report into the ‘Open Library’ pilots totally undermined its positive conclusions. It said any decision to continue with the scheme, which was based on the report, would be ‘ill advised’.

In his opening address to the conference Sean Reid, Cathaoirleach of IMPACT’s Local Government division, outlined broader fears about the impact of the project on library services. “So-called pilot schemes are the thin end of a nasty wedge, which will lead to job losses and far poorer library services. An unchecked drift to staffless libraries will, at best, fragment the service. Services in small towns and rural areas will be downgraded and mostly unstaffed, with little or no access to specialist advice, educational courses or cultural events, while poorer urban areas will be denied both extended opening hours and enhanced services based on modern information and communications technologies,” he said.

Mr Reid said that staffless libraries would also remove services that only staff could provide, including school visits and storytelling events. “No help to find what you want. No safe and secure space to flick through a magazine or surf the web. And none of the hundreds of educational and artistic events that libraries provide throughout the year,” he said. 

The conference continues until Friday (12th May), follow the discussion at @IMPACTTU / #lg17.