‘Improved arrangements’ over local library cuts

CONTROVERSIAL plans to halve opening hours at two of the borough’s libraries have been revised following public outcry.

Under original proposals by Libraries Northern Ireland, Greenisland and Whitehead branches would have been cut to 18 hours.

However, with the provision of additional £2.39 million funding by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Board of Libraries NI decided that opening hours at the two locations will be reduced by 90 minutes and four and a half hours respectively.

The additional money eases the financial pressure on Libraries NI, and means that library opening hours do not need to be reduced to the same level as originally proposed to meet savings targets resulting from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The Board’s decision now means that all public libraries across Northern Ireland are categorised into one of six bands, previously four, based on level of use.

“The new Bands mean that in some libraries opening hours will not change; in other libraries there will be a slight increase and in some libraries there will be a reduction,” said Irene Knox, Chief Executive of Libraries NI.

“The new proposals, approved by the Board, provide for a more equitable distribution of hours across Northern Ireland and are based on usage. They also take account of many of the concerns expressed by people who responded to the consultation.

“We will now engage with local customers in each library affected to develop new patterns of opening hours and we will aim to be fair to customers, to libraries and to our staff.”

While suggesting the original proposals for the Whitehead and Greenisland branches were ‘dramatic and unacceptable’, East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs welcomed the Board’s most recent decision.

“I am pleased that DCAL has now recognised how the local community values libraries in their midst and has provided additional funds that will go some way to relieve the pressure on Libraries Northern Ireland,” Mr Beggs said. “The savage reduction of opening hours has been avoided to a large extent in their latest proposals.

“The local library remains a vital community focal point in each of these rural and urban communities. Libraries enable everyone to have access to government information. This is vital, given the ongoing centralisation of public services. They also provide a focal point for the local community and a valued educational resource.

“Whilst I welcome this ministerial announcement of additional funds, the final campaign has not been fully won as there remains some reduction in opening hours to the libraries in Greenisland and Whitehead.”

Echoing these sentiments, Councillor David Hilditch thanked all those who had supported the campaign, which included a petition in Whitehead, and urged more users to avail of the service.

“It’s not a total victory in any sense but it’s a very small reduction as to what was envisaged. Let’s not give reason in the future to revisit the proposal,” he said

Meanwhile, the public consultation outlined the ‘essential role’ played by libraries at the heart of local communities, said Libraries NI Chair Nigel Macartney.

“The Minister and her officials have received regular briefings from myself and the Libraries NI Chief Executive in the past number of weeks. We are grateful for her support and the additional funding that has been provided. The Board welcomed the amended proposals as the impact on library opening hours and consequently on library users has been reduced,” Mr Macartney said.

“I would like to thank our customers and those members of the public who took time to engage with us throughout the consultation process. Though we still need to make reductions in hours, the public’s continued support has proved invaluable in achieving these new improved arrangements.”