Temporary cuts to library opening hours are to be made permanent – and some will even have opening times further reduced.
That’s the proposals going out to public consultation today (Wednesday).
Libraries NI said it had “agreed reluctantly” to review opening hours as a result of the savings required by the Draft Budget 2015/16.
At the same time, it offers a reassurance that no libraries would close as a result.
Opening hours were reduced last November on short notice and were stated at the time to be temporary.
In Armagh City, the number of hours had been reduced from 48 to 44.5. The changes, if agreed, would reduce that – permanently – to 44 hours.
Newry Library was cut from 57 to 52 in November and that would not drop to 50.
In both Lurgan and Dungannon, 57 hours became 51 hours and now that is to go down to 50.
Portadown and Banbridge’s opening hours were reduced from 48 hours to 44.5 hours. Here it is proposed that the temporary opening would increase by half an hour, but still falling three hours short of the original pre-cuts opening.
Brownlow Library had been cut from 40 hours to 39 but that will now be reduced to 35.
In Keady, opening hours were cut in November from 33 to 29, and it is proposed that it will now be reduced to 28.
There will be no changes to Tandragee and Bessbrook, which remain open for 25 hours a week, and Richhill and Crossmaglen also stay the same at 18 – the minimum opening hours of any in the Province.
At the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh, the original opening had been 40 hours, but this was cut back to 34 in November. It is proposed that the new and permanent hours would be 35 a week.
A commitment has been given that none of these changes will be introduced before October this year, and only after the public consultation period, which begins today and runs until April 17.
In addition to the possibility of reduced hours, library opening may operate with a different pattern.
The Consultation Report suggests that public libraries across Northern Ireland continue to be categorised into bands based on level of use.
The proposal is that libraries in Band One would open for 54 hours per week; those in Band Two would open for 50 hours per week; those in Band Three would open for 45 hours per week; those in Band Four would open for 40 hours per week; those in Band Five would open for 35 hours per week; those in Band Six would open for 28 hours per week; those in Band Seven would open for 25 hours per week; and libraries in Band Eight would be open for 18 hours per week.
Irene Knox, Chief Executive of Libraries NI, said: “The Draft Budget for 2015/16 requires Libraries NI to save 7.5% which equates to £2.385 million.
“No libraries will close as a result of these savings.
“Libraries NI was obliged to reduce opening hours temporarily in November 2014 at short notice when it was required to make in-year savings and we now need to regularise opening hours to ensure equity. The temporary opening hours will continue to apply until the new hours are introduced in the autumn.
“Reducing opening hours is very difficult for our customers and our staff and the Board of Libraries NI deeply regrets having to take this course of action.
“We will consult openly with people during this process and we are inviting people to engage with us regarding the policy and proposals. In all of our actions we want to be fair to customers, to libraries and to our staff.”
Survey questionnaires will be available in libraries and on the Libraries NI website – www.librariesni.org.uk.
A draft equality impact assessment and draft rural impact assessment will be available on the website for comment, along with the proposal document.
Once the Board has taken its decision on the way forward, there will be a further period of local engagement with customers in every library regarding the actual pattern of opening hours.
NIPSA, which represents the vast majority of workers in Libraries NI have reacted, to the announcement of the opening hours review.
Assistant Secretary Paddy Mackel responded: “Libraries NI provide a vital public service to the whole community and is truly representative of what a shared future should look like.
“Libraries cater for every sector of our community, literally from the cradle to the grave, and have a proud record of providing an excellent service to children and young people, the elderly, newcomers to these shores and people in areas of social deprivation and exclusion.
“In survey after survey the service provided has been very highly praised by the general public.
“The union accepts that some protection has been afforded to libraries, and welcomes the fact that this means that no library will be forced to close. Unfortunately however this masks a number of other facts.
“The first is that a significant number of libraries will now face reduced opening hours, including a reduction in late night opening, many having already reduced opening hours in November last year.
“Secondly, in a 12 month period, Libraries NI will have 100 less workers employed to deliver the service, representing more than a 10% reduction in the workforce.”
Linking this to the wider Cuts Agenda Paddy Mackel concluded: “This is further evidence of the Tory led attack on public services through massive cuts to the Assembly budget. It is NIPSA’s strong view that rather than imposing cuts locally the political parties in the Assembly should be uniting in seeking sufficient funds to maintain and enhance public services.
“Rather than obtaining agreement from the UK Government to borrow £700m to [invest in redundancies’, local politicians should concentrate their efforts on reaching agreement to invest in maintaining and enhancing vital public services, investing in the provision of much needed social housing and investing in job creation.
“That’s what a government working on behalf of ordinary workers would do.”
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