Monday, January 03, 2011

Another year, another Libraries NI review (this time the proposed closure of 10 libraries outside Belfast)

On 10 January, Libraries NI will open a 12 week consultation on the second stage of their strategic review of public library service in Northern Ireland. Update - the consultation questionnaire is now open, and details of the rationale and scoring spreadsheet are on the Libraries NI website.

Final map of Belfast libraries closures

Last year, stage 1 of the review examined 32 Greater Belfast libraries and assessed the state of the buildings and borrowers before proposing the closure of 14 libraries and the merging of 2. After consultation, public meetings and much lobbying from politicians, the review concluded and 4 libraries were reprieved, but the book was thrown at the remaining 10.

Stage 2 broadens the spotlight to the rest of Northern Ireland to look at the remaining 77 libraries. (Stage 3 will review mobile library provision in the light of the first two bricks and mortar reviews.)

The same criteria are being used for the second stage:

  • Fit for purpose;
  • Capable of delivering on the vision;
  • In the right location;
  • Sustainable.

It’s notable that other considerations like transport links and the cost of travelling to alternative libraries, levels of digital literacy/internet access in the catchment area, and the wider value of libraries in civil society are still not part of the primary evaluation criteria ... though some may feature in the as-yet unpublished Section 75 Equality Impact Assessment.

Libraries NI propose closing 10 libraries “that are considered to be no longer viable”: Carnlough, Draperstown, Fintona. Gilford, Greystone, Kells and Connor, Killyleagh, Moneymore, Moy and Richhill.

They propose consolidating Armagh Branch Library with Irish and Local Studies Library (also in Armagh).

And they propose rebuilding or at least doing major refurbishments to a further 21 libraries ... tough “due to constraints on capital funding, it is not possible at this stage to identify a timescale for new builds or major refurbishments”. The lucky sites are: Ballycastle, Ballyclare, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Coalisland, Coleraine, Creggan, Derry Central, Dromore, Enniskillen, Fivemiletown, Garvagh, Kilkeel, Limavady, Lisnaskea, Maghera, Moira, Newtownards, Shantallow, Strathfoyle and Waterside.

The public consultation runs for 12 weeks from 10 January and details of a series of public meetings along with survey questionnaires will be published on the Libraries NI website. Update - schedule of public meetings now published (just two days before they start).

Probably timely to repost some comments via Ewan McIntosh about the value of libraries.

The leader of Newcastle City Council, John Shipley, was speaking at a library conference and suggested:

"libraries come cheap at the price, reducing costs in almost every other problematic area of public spending: policing and crime prevention, vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, social exclusion."

Their promotional video (below) sets a good tone. Ewan comments:

"It's profound in an age where libraries are often the first in line to be cut, closed and stalled in their work to make us more fully informed and wise citizens. His point is that it's the cheapest thing to keep going given what it does to mop up the social problems of a city through engagement."

Read Ewan's post for more details.


Anonymous said...

It is much, much worse than that! There is a pending cut in opening hours on the cards along with a general reduction of speciised services. Inside the bunker, morale is very low and there have been further redundancies during the last couple of weeks. More worryingly, the fate of Belfast Central Library - especially its reference section is increasingly unclear.

Patrick Corrigan said...

Alan, thanks for posting this. Surveying the Libraries NI website, it is practically impossible to come across the consultation documents on this, so I'm grateful.

I am saddened that Greystone Library (in Antrim) is one of the libraries slated for closure. As a child I visited it on more Saturday mornings than I care to remember, borrowed and read more books than I can count and later used it as a quiet spot for exam revision.

It's surrounded by densely populated housing estates with a lot of children (and adults) for whom it was - and I presume still is - a valuable resource. I've no idea what usage rates are like these days, but it's exactly the sort of place where a library is a beacon of knowledge and desperately needed for those who have a yearning for learning but can't afford to buy all the books they want or the bus fares into town for the main area library. To close libraries like this in working class areas of NI in the name of 'efficiency' would be a terrible indictment of our current government.

giordanobruno said...

The very real possibility of the major public library in the primary city(sorry to break it to you Derry and Lisburn) in N Ireland, having no reference library is frankly shameful. I guess in future we can all do our research on wikipedia, or even facebook. I have 62 friends, one of them must know about the Punic Wars.
If we don't need libraries, then we certainly don't need art galleries, or museums.
Apparently what we do need is more managers. O brave new world.

Anonymous said...

The unitary authory running public libraries in Northern Ireland is bound to be biased towards rural area. Belfast is effectively a capital city and its needs are clearly different, but ni-libraries is a monolithic organisation. Belfast Central Library's reference library has been run down over the last few year and has lost its reference librarian. There is no doubt that in the current financial climate its chance of survival is slender.

Anonymous said...

The current round of public spending cuts is going to affect libraries very deeply, DCAL are looking at (in their own terms) an 18% cut in the funding for libraries - and that is very big. Northern Ireland is unique in the UK and ROI in having a unitary library authority; that has huge implications because it allows so little democratic in-put (simply put, libraries run by councils are part of the local government system and subject to voters views). ni-libraries is indeed monolithic, but is that good? No. They are an arms-length organisation imposing their will on us (not so unlike NI Water). Clearly there are huge issues about how limited resources are spent, but far better through accountable institutions.

Anonymous said...

Here's a suggestion. Currently the public respond to closures on an ad hoc basis relating to local areas. What Northern Ireland library users need is a unified pressure group able to to talk to, challenge and quiz ni-libraries on an organised basis. Of course there will be closures and reductions in services: that is the times we live in. But they should not be imposed by a non-elected public body according to its 'vision,' a 'vision' that probably serves ni-libraries' management by ensuring their well-paid jobs are safe. With elections pending we all have power - use it! Social networking, access to the media and use of freedom of information are tools at everyone's disposal. Do not accept decisions - ensure that as tax payers (and yes, ni-libraries is spending our money) we are in control!

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

> Do not accept decisions - ensure that as tax payers (and yes, ni-libraries is spending our money) we are in control!

Technically, the Libraries NI board does include members of the public alongside political appointees. So tax payers are already involved in the accountability and governance of libraries in NI.

giordanobruno said...

I suggest that Libraries Ni's mission statement should be 'Never a borrower or a lender be.'

Anonymous said...

Yes - ni-libraries does have few select tame tax payers. But in the rest of the UK and ROI libraries are run through elected councils - in theory users can approach their councillors or impact at the Ballot Box in local government elections. ni-libries is 'an arms length organization' run through DCAL. It is a political experiment that probably makes DCAL look busy. It is worth noting that one of the better libraries in Belfast is run in association with council services at Grove.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I wouldn't call the two lay members of the board I know "tame" by any stretch of the imagination.

Don't the existing Education & Library Boards have lay members too?