In my last post I made reference to the second stage of the Libraries NI strategic review and the proposals that that contained for new and replacement libraries which counterbalanced the rationalisation programme identifying ten libraries for closure and two for “clustering”.
It is now clear that the capital funding that Libraries NI was counting on to make a start on its building programme is no longer available. The capital funding proposed in the draft budget will cover little more than the completion of some projects already underway, the procurement of the replacement of the electronic services contract and four new mobile libraries.
Libraries are much more than just the buildings and the cuts anticipated in the recurrent expenditure on opening hours, recruitment and, in particular, spend on stock still represent the gravest aspect of the threat that the budget poses for the sustainability and ultimate survival of the public library service; but the inability to refresh the estate to ensure that premises are fit for purpose and attractive has to be another serious blow for an infant organisation seeking to establish its position and make an impact.
The damage that will be inflicted on the library service by these budget proposals will in turn affect all aspects of life here for years to come. Libraries make an incalculable impact on our society. Much of that impact is felt at the individual level and it may take years for it to be fully understood or appreciated; but it can include improved literacy, academic attainment, better employment prospects, confidence in engaging with public services and a positive attitude to social responsibility – all in all simply a better quality of life as well as the obvious lifelong love of reading. For all of those reasons it is vital that people respond and make their views known on the future of the library service .
The consultation on the draft budget continues until 16 February and you can find details of how to respond from the links on DCAL’s budget page. The Libraries NI consultation on the second stage of the strategic review continues until 8 April.