Budgetary cuts will see opening hours at many libraries across Co Armagh being cut back in just nine days time.
Libraries NI has described the changes to opening hours, which will affect 52 library facilities across the Province, as “temporary”.
But there are fears locally, as have already been expressed by politicians, that the reductions coming into force now will actually only be a start, with more to follow.
Among those to be hit is the Irish and Local Studies Library, based out of the old Queen’s University building at Abbey Street, which will no longer have any weekend opening.
It currently opens from 10am until 2pm on Saturdays, but this jewel in the local libraries crown, a valued research tool for locals and visitors alike, will be forced to close then.
It will also now close at lunchtimes for half an hour, between 1pm and 1.30pm.
The new opening hours will take effect from Monday, November 3.
But Keady Library (pictured) will be among the first to feel the pinch. It is already due to close all day this coming Tuesday, October 28, and will only open on Wednesday, October 29, between the hours of 5.30pm and 8pm.
Keady Library already closes on Mondays and Thursdays. It will now be forced to close at lunchtimes, between 1pm and 1.30pm daily, and on Wednesdays, as it currently opens to 8pm, it will close for half an hour, between 5.30pm and 6pm.
The Armagh City Library opens currently 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, with the exception of Tuesdays, when it opens until 8pm. After November 3, the late night opening will remain, but it will not open on a Tuesday until 1pm. Saturday it will be open at 9am instead of 9.30am, but it will close between 1pm and 2pm.
Bessbrook Library is currently closed on Mondays but will now close on Thursdays too, when it is currently open between 2pm and 5pm. Friday opening will be extended – 10am until 5pm instead of the present 1pm until 5pm, but Saturday opening will be cut back to just two hours, between 1pm and 3pm, instead of 11am and 3pm.
Opening hours at the Portadown Library on Church Street will see the loss of the late night opening on Mondays, closing at 5pm instead of 8pm. The remainder remains unchanged.
Similarly, Brownlow Library at Craigavon will lose one hour opening of its late night Tuesday, closing at 7pm instead of 8pm.
Lurgan Library’s late night opening on Wednesdays and Thursdays is being done away with. It will now close both evenings at 5pm instead of 8pm.
Other local libraries to be hit include the Newry facility at Hill Street. It also will see late night opening cut back on Mondays and Tuesday, from 8pm to 6pm, and on Thursdays, instead of closing at 9pm, it will now shut up at 8pm.
In Dungannon Library, at Market Square, Tuesday and Wednesday late night opening will be a thing of the past, losing three hours each evening, closing at 5pm instead of 8pm.
Banbridge Library’s only late night is currently a Tuesday. The facility will remain open until 8pm but it will be closed in the morning. Instead of opening at 9.30am it will not now do so until 1pm.
Libraries NI says the changes will see libraries across the Province operate with reduced hours or with a different pattern.
And it says the “temporary reduction” in opening hours is one of the measures that has been implemented to make £1.4 million of savings before March 2015, as a result of the Libraries NI budget being cut by 4.4%.
Staffing levels in all libraries, it says, have been reviewed to ensure they remain open at busiest times and to prevent disruption to core services and programmes.
And it warns that, while “every effort will be made to adhere to” the opening hours being published, “temporary ad hoc closures or changes to opening hours may occur. Advance notice will be given where possible. Customers are asked, if in doubt, to check the Libraries NI website for the latest information or to telephone their local library.”
Irene Knox, Libraries NI Chief Executive, said: “Reduced opening hours will be very difficult for our customers and our staff and we deeply regret having to take this course of action.
“The impact of these changes cannot be minimised as many in society now rely on the wi-fi access, new computer equipment and faster broadband connections available in all libraries.
“I am grateful to all of the staff in Libraries NI who have worked together in a very positive manner over the last month to reorganise their rotas to facilitate these revised opening hours.
“This is a difficult time for everyone involved, but I know that library staff will continue to do everything that they can to provide high quality services for our customers.”
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