Thursday, May 27, 2010

Every library a good library, but a lot fewer of them?

The Greater Belfast Library Review has come to a conclusion and the Libraries NI board published their conclusions this afternoon. Of the 32 branches in Belfast, 14 had been proposed for closure. Four have been given a reprieve, while ten will now definitely be closed.

I’ve updated the annotated map I posted back in February when the review was launched.

Map of Greater Belfast libraries

Closing: Andersonstown, Ballymacarrett, Belvoir Park, Braniel, Dunmurry, Gilnahirk, Ligoniel, Oldpark, Sandy Row and Whitewell.

Reprieved: Ballyhackamore, Cloughfern, Tullycarnet and Woodstock.

As I pointed out in February:

Local libraries have a role to play in literacy – reading and writing – as well as digital media literacy too. They’re centres of knowledge, whether through reference books, local newspapers (with job listings) or the erudite staff. Libraries are also part of the social fabric of society: places for people of all ages to meet – whether kids after school, retired people – and somewhere for parents with young children to escape to when they’re going stare crazy at home.

From an East Belfast perspective, it’s no surprise that Ballyhackamore’s branch will remain open. While Tullycarnet has been given another chance, Libraries NI had better work hard and put energy into making it a success in its community, otherwise I’d fear that in a couple of years it could still close its doors.

The loss of Gilnahirk and Braniel will create an awkward journey for older and younger library users up on the hill as they make their way down to other branches.

I’m still concerned that Libraries NI didn’t seem to address the full repercussions of the closures before or during their consultation. So answers to the kind of questions I posed didn’t seem to be forthcoming.

Q5. What assessment has been made of the value that the Greater Belfast libraries recommended for clustering and rationalisation inject into their local community (their natural catchment)? What assessment has been made of the value that will be lost to those communities if each of the recommended library facilities are withdrawn?

Q6. Have you figures (for each branch) that estimate the average distance potential customers live from their nearest (or most convenient) library in the Greater Belfast region? And do you have revised figures that show how these figures will change if the recommendations in the report are enacted? If the figures exist, please supply them.

Q7. Where a Greater Belfast library branch has been proposed for clustering or rationalisation, has your analysis taken into account the likely transport methods (including public transport) and associated costs for existing and potential customers in the natural catchment area of the old library to travel to their new local library branch? (For users without access to cars, public transport comes at a financial and a time cost. For example, potential customers living in Gilnahirk or Braniel will no longer be able to walk to their nearest library, but will instead have to travel to Dundonald [or] to Holywood Arches? There may – or may not – be convenient bus routes that make these journeys possible. If access becomes inconvenient, library usage may further decline.)

The closure of a library feels like a loss of potential. Accessibility to information is withdrawn; community support and shared space is lessened; the opportunity to improve multiple types of literacy wanes; and there’s a general message communicated that certain communities aren’t important enough to be invested in. An economic reality, but also a social statement.

The multi-million pound refurbishment of the (dilapidated) Belfast Central Library will go ahead. Several other Greater Belfast branches will be redeveloped. Unfortunately, the educational motto “Every school a good school” has been translated into

“Every library a good library, but a lot fewer of them.”

The axe falling on the Belfast libraries should be a wake up call for branches in other districts. Similar criteria will inevitably be applied to those areas over the coming months and years. While it could be argued that Belfast was overly blessed with libraries, DCAL’s budgets will not be increasing, and Libraries NI will inevitably have to look for further efficiencies.

Libraries NI mission statement says:

To enrich and enhance the lives of individuals and communities through providing and promoting a range of high quality library and information services.

And they have a target:

By 2011 to maintain the proportion of library users in Northern Ireland who are satisfied with public library provision.

Note “maintain” not “increase”.

It would be good to see a high profile and creative campaign supported by Libraries NI, authors, literacy stakeholders and community groups to promote the use of libraries right across Northern Ireland before the next cull is announced.


Timothy Belmont said...

From a selfish view-point I'm glad that Holywood Arches and Ballyhackamore seem to have been reprieved, in the short term at least!

I cannot help but wonder the wisdom of closing down libraries without very good reasons, namely lack of users due to housing redevelopment etc.

I visit the library monthly to peruse the latest copy of Which? Though I'd also borrow the odd reference volume.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Holywood Arches was never under threat ... it was about to become the only significant East Belfast library between Dundonald and Belfast Central!

Chris said...

Has Libraries NI published a detailed report on on the submissions it received as part of the consultation process? It would be interesting to read but I couldn't see it on their website.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I don't see anything. But nothing to stop someone writing/emailing to ask for a copy of the submissions and evidence they received/generated!

Chris said...

Alan, I took your sugestion and contacted Libraries NI who have responded to say that documents for online publication are being prepared and will be available by 11 June 2010.

Should be interesting to see the submissions gathered, particularly the responses to their questionnaires.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Chris - great - I'll look out for it appearing online on Friday. Thanks for following up and leaving an update.

Giordano Bruno said...

Has Andytown Library had a reprieve?
Good work Gerry.