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First chief of Libraries NI announces her retirement

By Claire McNeilly

Published 11/11/2016

Irene Knox held the top post for seven years
Irene Knox held the top post for seven years

The woman who has fought to save libraries in Northern Ireland is to step down from her post, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Irene Knox, the first ever chief executive of Libraries NI, which was established in April 2009, is to retire early in the new year.

Ms Knox (59) has spent the last few years trying to maintain the standard of libraries here against the backdrop of relentless redundancies and stringent budget cuts.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Knox said she was extremely pleased with what she had done in her role as creator and boss of Libraries NI.

"It was a huge achievement for me to set up a whole new organisation for the public library service and I'm very proud," she added.

"We've made tremendous strides over the past few years. The profile of the public library service in Northern Ireland is very high at the moment and people value the service and the work that we do."

Since its formation in 2009, Libraries NI has lost nearly 150 employees through voluntary severance schemes rolled out every year, and stock has never been lower.

Earlier this year, Ms Knox successfully fought off plans to cut opening hours, and Libraries NI recently signed a new partnership agreement with the BBC to boost learning and development opportunities across Northern Ireland.

It means that when Ms Knox steps down from her position next February, she will be handing over an organisation that is in great shape to her successor.

"We've been running seven-and-a-half years and I think it's now time for me to hang up my boots," she said, adding that she has decided to leave because of her age. "I'm very proud of what myself and my staff have achieved over the past seven years and I've decided that it's high time to hand over the reins to somebody else and for me to do something else," she explained.

"I'll miss the people with whom I work - I have tremendous staff who provide a fantastic, really highly-valued service to the public. I believe passionately in the role of libraries and in the contribution that libraries make to individuals and communities."

The public library service used to be part of the five education and library boards until the Review of Public Administration created a single library authority and a single education authority.

Ms Knox, who was chief executive of the South Eastern Education and Library Board prior to heading up Libraries NI, started her career as a library assistant in 1979 after leaving university.

The Dromara woman then obtained a postgraduate diploma in library and information studies and subsequently held various posts in the Library Service in the Southern Education and Library Board before moving to the South Eastern Board in 1990.

She then worked in human resources, special education, school transport, property services and youth services before eventually becoming the chief executive of the South Eastern Board

Ms Knox said: "I loved working in the education sector, but the opportunity to set up a brand new organisation for public libraries across Northern Ireland was a privilege and I'm hugely honoured to have been the first chief executive of Libraries NI."

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