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Union raps plan to cut opening hours at 14 libraries

By Cate McCurry

Published 19/05/2016

Liaising: Libraries NI’s Irene Knox
Liaising: Libraries NI’s Irene Knox

A union has condemned a proposal to slash opening hours at 14 libraries here.

Hours will be reduced from either 54 or 50 hours to 45 under the money-saving plan, which will mean some libraries closing an extra day every week.

If passed, the scheme will see operating times at Bangor Carnegie, Belfast Central, Derry Central, Lisburn City and Omagh reduced by nine hours a week.

Ballymena Central, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Finaghy, Glengormley, Lurgan and Newry City will open for five fewer hours.

For many of these libraries, it will be the second hit to their hours in the past year, during which the total budget has also been cut from £29.4m in £27.7m.

Unison criticised the proposed cuts, which are subject to a public consultation running from May 17-July 17.

Regional organiser Brian Ferguson said: "This is the third round of cuts since the inception of the Northern Ireland Library Authority (Libraries NI).

"The use of libraries is an integral part of the social fabric of our communities. Use is high and growing as poverty and unemployment increase.

"The library is a shared space, a meeting place, a place of safety, companionship and learning.

"Further cuts in opening hours will seriously impact on the long-term viability of libraries as a community service. In some instances, they are the only public service left in rural communities.

"These cuts demonstrate a disregard for people in general and the ethos of public library provision specifically.

"Older people, women and young people use their local libraries on a daily basis.

"The ability to access their library service and take part in activities and events has been acknowledged as aiding social inclusion, health and wellbeing."

Mr Ferguson also claimed any reduction in opening hours would have a "disproportionate detrimental impact" on users.

"Cuts in hours have clearly led to staff struggling to meet the demands of the service and expectations of the public," he added.

"It is Unison's view that the proposed budget allocation to Libraries NI is insufficient to enable the organisation to operate a much-needed public service.

"We call on Government ministers to think again. Stop the cuts to the library service."

Chief executive of Libraries NI Irene Knox said that while the situation was not ideal, the body needed to consider its budget for the year ahead.

"We will continue to liaise with staff, customers and stakeholders throughout this process and we will listen to any concerns raised," she added.

"If our circumstances change and additional funding is made available, then it will be used to minimise the reductions in library opening hours."

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