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.
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;
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 though some may feature in the as-yet unpublished Section 75 Equality Impact Assessment.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).
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.