Plans to slash opening hours at Derry Central’s Library have been branded ‘mean and counter-productive’.
Libraries NI has announced plans to cut the hours at its 14 busiest libraries across the north, including its main facility in Derry, by up to 9 hours every week.
Public consultation on the proposals opened this week and will run to 17 July to identify the most suitable pattern of reduced hours, while the changes will take effect in November.
People Before Profit has denounced the proposed cuts, stating that this follows on from the slashing of the budget for buying new books, a stop to the filling of vacancies and a halt to most maintenance work in 2014.
Foyle MLA Eamonn McCann said a programme of cuts two years ago also involved the withdrawal of cover for sickness, annual leave and attendance at training courses.
“Now comes another blow with the curtailment of opening hours by the equivalent of a day a week,” he said.
“Libraries are far more than reading and book-lending facilities. They are very important for students seeking a quiet, congenial setting for study. It should be remembered that 20 percent of households in the north do not have access to the internet.
“They provide an older generation with a sense of community and encourage informal, life-long learning. Many children have their first experience of books in the local library.
“Libraries are good not just for those who use them but for society as a whole.
“What we are facing now are not cuts at the margins but cuts which strike at the heart of the library service.”
People Before Profit said they believe the cuts should be resisted, by local groups, unions and communities teaming up with a wider movement in Britain fighting against similar cuts and closures.
“Only action at grass-roots level has any hope of forcing a rethink.
Libraries NI said the reduction in library opening hours forms part of an overall package of savings that Libraries NI needs to implement to help meet current budget demands.
Commenting on the cuts, Chief Executive of Libraries NI Irene Knox said: “This is not the ideal situation however we must plan for and consider our budget for the year ahead. We will continue to liaise with staff, customers and stakeholders throughout this process and we will listen to any concerns raised. If our circumstances change, and additional funding is made available, then it will be used to minimise the reductions in library opening hours.”
For the consultation, people are invited to complete a questionnaire which can be accessed at any of the 14 libraries affected or online at www.librariesni.org.uk.