Local libraries hours axed

Inside a library
Inside a library

MAGHERAFELT library is to have nine hours slashed off it’s opening times, it has been announced by Libraries NI.

By PATRICIA DEVLIN

Patricia.Devlin@midulstermail.co.uk

But Cookstown has emerged a winner from the ‘Review of Opening Hours’, launched by the board in September, as it is set to open for an extra 3.5 hours each week. Draperstown, which currently opens 18 hours a week, will not lose any hours, while Maghera, open 44 hours a week, will decrease opening times to 40 hours.

Announcement for the revised hours was due at the end of last year but was delayed after the level of “overwhelming” feedback put forward by library staff and customers in the consultation period from September to November 2011.

Over 7,000 questionnaires and more than 500 items of correspondence were submitted across the province following proposals to cut local libraries opening hours by up to 30 per cent in an effort to save up to £10 million.

Initially it was feared that libraries in Mid-Ulster were set to lose up to 50 hours collectively, but last weeks announcement by DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín’s of £2.39m additional funding has helped the board keep cuts to a minimum.

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 based on level of use: (Band 1) 57 hours per week; (Band 2) 48 hours per week; (Band 3) 40 hours per week; (Band 4) 30 hours per week; (Band 5) 25 hours per week; and (Band 6) 18 hours per week.

Welcoming the news on Cookstown’s increase on opening hours, Mid-Ulster DUP Assembly MLA Ian McCrea also voiced his disappointment that Magherafelt and Maghera Libraries are to lose out

He said: “Following the decision to close Moneymore library, I arranged a meeting with Libraries NI about the opening hours of the nearby libraries and am delighted that a positive response has been forthcoming in that not only have they decided not to reduce the opening hours in Cookstown, but have agreed to increase its opening time by 3.5 hours.

“It is widely accepted that Cookstown library is a premier venue, as a joint venture with the South West College and I wholeheartedly welcome this great news.

“Unfortunately such great news cannot be said about Magherafelt library that will reduce its opening times by 9 hours and Maghera library which will see a reduction of 4 hours. I am disappointed at this news and will be contacting the Chief Executive of Libraries NI to try to have this reduction overturned and ensure that no redundancies are made.

“I want to commend everyone associated with Draperstown library for successfully opposing its closure and welcome the news that no change has been made to its opening hours.

Nigel Macartney, Chairperson of Libraries NI, said the thanked the Department and the public for the support given to libraries over the consultation period.

He said: “The Minister shares the views of the many thousands of people who responded to the public consultation that Libraries are an important public service with an essential role in the heart of our communities. 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.

“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.”

Irene Knox, Chief Executive of Libraries NI, added: “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. 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.”