Cuts to opening hours at libraries across Derry and Strabane will help feed deprivation, disadvantage and isolation, Derry City & Strabane District Council have warned.
The proposed cuts to several libraries across the city and district were outlined at the new council’s first Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting this week.
The council was told that of the eight libraries in the area, five will be affected.
Under the Library NI plans, Strathfoyle Library will see a reduction of five hours, while Derry’s Central Library on Foyle Street, Strabane Town Library and Waterside Library will all be reduced by three hours. Creggan meanwhile will be reduced by two hours.
The other libraries at Shantallow, Castlederg and Newtonstewart will be unaffected.
Derry City & Strabane District Council have now drafted a response setting in its strong opposition to the cuts.
The committee was told by a council officer that the cut in hours was because Libraries NI have stated that their draft budget for 2015/16 requires a 7.5% reduction.
Independent Derry-Strabane Councillor Dee Quigley said he “strongly supported” the council’s response to the consultation, adding: “I’m devastated for the people of Strathfoyle who use the library. It is an excellent resource.”
Fellow Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly agreed, saying that the Strathfoyle Library was a “valuable community asset”.
SDLP Councillor John Boyle said: “The actual reduction to opening hours are of great concern to us. Strathfoyle is one of our more isolated communities. Any reductions we would very strongly be saying it must be opposed.”
He said local libraries provided invaluable after schools services, and referred to statistics which show that in Derry City Central Library there were almost twice as many items issued as was the case in Belfast Central Library- despite Derry being just one sixth of the size in terms of population.
The Derry Library during the year to March 2014 had 289,866 visitors arriving, with 75,284 items issued.
Over the same period Belfast Central Library had 333,321 visitors and 44,002 items issued.
In terms of participants in activities at the Foyle Street Library there were 8,245 people- compared to just 986 in Belfast Central.
In terms of membership as of April last year Derry Central had 8,667 compared to Belfast’s 6,451.
“It’s very, very clear it is being widely used,” Colr. Boyle said.
Strabane Library meanwhile had 5,284 active members as of April 2014.
Sinn Fein Councillor Kieran McGuire said that in rural areas there was a lack of proper infrastructure like broadband to enable people to go about their business, with many such as students dependant on using Strabane Library.
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey also spoke of the importance of the cross-border mobile library to rural areas.
Committee chair, Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin said Strabane Library was “an invaluable resource”.