Fifty staff in Longford and Westmeath are balloting for industrial action in a dispute over plans to amalgamate library services in the two counties. Their union IMPACT says the proposals would see libraries in both counties managed by one local authority, which would threaten service provision in the other county.
The scheme, drawn up by a Dublin-based planning group, would immediately leave either Westmeath or Longford without a county librarian. And IMPACT says the medium-term future of services in both counties would also be threatened as library budgets come under increasing pressure.
The union says the Dublin planning group did not visit the counties, took little account of local needs, and failed to produce a cost-benefit analysis of its proposals.
IMPACT has contacted local councillors in both counties and says the majority agree that local library services should be maintained on a county-wide basis. The union says neither staff nor local elected representatives have been properly consulted on the initiative, which has no statutory basis and could herald the end of local decision-making on library services.
Local IMPACT official Ashley Connolly said staff also had concerns that they could be ordered to work on a cross-county basis at locations far from their homes or existing workplaces.
Ms Connolly said: “Local libraries are vital social hubs in rural and urban communities that have already lost shops, garda stations, post offices and other local amenities. We can’t allow our thriving library system to be to be gutted on foot of a remote number-crunching exercise, which doesn’t reflect local needs or the realities of community life. The proposed merger would immediately create a gap in expertise at the highest level, and would ultimately lead to reduced library services to the public. There are already many vacant posts in libraries in both counties, which is affecting services and staff morale.”
Ms Connolly said library use, including internet provision, was on the increase in the six branch libraries in Longford and the seven in Westmeath. Meanwhile, significant cost-saving shared service measures were being implemented, including a new national library management IT system that will allow library users to access to services across the country.
IMPACT says the result of its industrial action ballot will be announced early in July. If staff back industrial action, the precise form of action will be decided then.
Notes for editors
Information on Longford libraries (2014 – last year for which full figures are available):
- Six branch libraries: Longford, Granard, Lanesboro, Ballymahon, Drumlish and Edgeworthstown.
- 8,389 registered library members
- 199,482 library visits
- 126,209 items issued
- 27,513 internet sessions provided
- 836 Twitter followers
- 2,678 Facebook followers.
Information on Westmeath libraries (2015 – last year for which full figures are available):
- Seven branch libraries
- 296,833 books borrowed
- 239,36 AV items borrowed
- 320,769 total items borrowed
- 294,936 visits
- 6,281 adult members
- 6,613 Junior members
- 12,894 total members
- 25,455 Internet sessions, including 9,186 WiFi
- 1,128 twitter followers
- 527 Facebook followers
- 328 tumblr followers.