Smaller books on fewer shelves for shorter opening hours – the reality of DCAL spending cuts

Press Association (via the Irish Independent) report from this morning’s Culture, Arts and leisure Committee meeting. Libraries NI Chief Executive Irene Knox was in the hot seat to brief the committee on the likely impact of “spending plans”. NI Museum’s Chris Bailey was also on the billing.

Earlier this year, a strategic review of library provision in Greater Belfast (which had a greater density of libraries than other areas of NI) resulted in the planned closure of ten libraries. PA explains that Libraries NI are making £1.8m of savings over two years.

By the end of this year 54 senior and middle-management positions will have been removed from the libraries service.

Greater Belfast libraries plan - final map

However, further cuts in DCAL funding will directly impact front line services, and may lead to further regional reviews of library provisioning.

Multimillion-pound savings have to be made in the coming years with a recruitment freeze, reduced book stock and shorter opening hours all possibilities, the chief executive of Libraries NI warned.

Staff sickness or pregnancy in small rural premises could force closure because they cannot be replaced.

Libraries head Irene Knox told a Stormont committee: “If we close a library as a result of having to make savings in this sort of process it is very unlikely that even if things get better in four years’ time that library will be able to open again because you will have decreased the service.”

(Update) The Newsletter explains the slightly cryptic “sickness or pregnancy” comment in the PA report:

The chief executive said that in rural branches there are often only two staff and to open with less would be prohibited on health and safety grounds. Yet the recruitment freeze means either transferring other staff or closing premises should an employee become ill.

Minutes from the committee meeting should appear on the NI Assembly website over the next day or so.

, , , ,

  • Alias

    Well, someone had to pay for Flash Gordon spending all the money on saving the world economy…

  • The Raven

    But that doesn’t matter, Alias. From what I’ve seen with some of the unqualified comments on this board, on Nolan and other media: as long as the public sector takes its verbal and financial kicking, its just deserts, that’s all that matters.

    No matter about books, bins, leisure centres, doctors, nurses, whatever.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Hey who cares about local libraries as long as really important stuff like Orange Parades and the Irish Language are OK?

  • joeCanuck

    When I lived in an estate on the outskirts of Bangor 30 years ago, they started a mobile library service. Limited books but a lot of people, myself included, liked it. They came around once a week for a couple of hours. Don’t suppose that still exists?

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    It still does in my area Joe, near Lisburn.

  • Big Maggie

    Libraries? They’re soooo 19th century.

    A nephew of mine has published two novels, which sold reasonably well. But considering the amount of time he put into them he was more profitably employed slinging hamburgers in Mcdonald’s.

    To add insult to injury, the libraries carry copies of his books and he gets fan mail from readers who tell him how much they enjoyed the books. That’s nice to hear of course but then they tell him they borrowed the book from the library.

    How much does he get per lending? One penny! :^(

  • joeCanuck

    Well ,he’s obviously not that good if he can make more with the hamburgers.
    Reminds me of a story:
    Engineering graduate says “I can plug that leak in no time”.
    Accountant says “This is what it will cost you”
    Arts graduate says “Will you have fries with that?”

  • Big Maggie


    “Well ,he’s obviously not that good if he can make more with the hamburgers.”

    With respect, you don’t know much about the publishing world, do you? Talent counts for less than being well known. It’s like the music or movie business I suppose.

  • joeCanuck

    And you, or your relative, don’t understand the “real” world. Build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door.

  • joeCanuck

    Maybe I’m too harsh; you didn’t give us the titles of the books. If it’s any comfort, very few Nobel Prize Literature winners were best sellers and no pulp fiction writers have ever got a Nobel Prize.

  • Sean Og

    Does anyone under 60 actually use public libraries anymore? I live 200 yards from one and haven’t been inside in 20 years. I use the internet for research and buy any books that I want.

    Why would anyone under 60 go to it? It’s not for the company – you can’t talk there!

    If all, bar the Central library, closed who would miss them after a few months?

  • Big Maggie


    Take it from me, the book market has changed beyond recognition. Publishers and booksellers are growing ever desperate for sales. They’ll only take on what they know or what they’re sure is going to sell. So we’re talking celebrity memoirs or novels that are pushed in the media.

    And speaking of the latter, I don’t how things are in Canada but here the book critics look out for their own, their own being fellow-journalists who’ve written books or mates of theirs.

    So we get the situation where a handful of new novels are reviewed by all the papers. They’re the same books, despite the fact that thousands of new titles appear every week in these islands. Last year there were 133,000 books published in the UK alone—that’s about 11,000 every month!

    My nephew had trouble even having his books displayed in bookshops. The big publishers pay big money to have a title displayed. That’s how it works. Like I say, talent doesn’t really count.

  • William Markfelt

    Good call, Sean.

    I’d say Central plus Linenhall,but after that, we’re all mobile.

    Kindle, Ipad, internet, Project Gutenberg and, if necessary, ‘illegal’ downloads (not sure on how the copyright act can apply to Plato as he’s been dead quite some time).

    Education’s in a state of flux, as evidenced by the centralisation of schools and the bussing in of ‘customers’. The same applies to libraries. There’s no one in the Greater Belfast area further than a two quid bus ride from Central or the Linenhall.

    In ten years we’ll have reassessed thinking to ‘intellectual property’ and libraries will be redundant, so quite why we’re going for rebuilds is baffling.

    Personally, I’d close them all and spend the cash on re-defining our requirements from text. And I speak as a voracious reader on a wide variety of subjects and the owner of a reasonably sized combustible dust collecting body of learning.

    Would the cash spent on libraries not be better spent on subsidising ever man, woman, child, dog, cat and budgie with an ipad? Or a broadband connection?

    Opposition to the closure of libraries strikes me as being opposition to the loss of union related jobs (Nipsa, isn’t it?) on the basis of a false premise that we are denying knowledge. We aren’t. It’s a straw-man argument. There’s more knowledge in cyberspace than there is in the Linenhall or Central Libraries combined.

    True, we don’t have Barbara Cartland or Mills and Boon in cyberspace much, but I’ll bet I can find some entire texts in five minutes flat. Less, probably.

    Dump them on the Ipad and hey-ho, there’s the holiday, bedtime, self-improving reading sorted for months ahead.

    The music industry is already facing the issue of where new recordings fit, and redefining their place in the 21st century. Right now, the answer appears to be give the music away free and tour more.

    It’s a debate that will extend itself to text in pretty short order, and in a decade we’ll be asking ourselves why we clung to the concept of libraries and library rebuilds for so long.

  • joeCanuck


    My grandson, aged 13 does. His mom is a single mom and although we (her parents, friends and in-laws) do give them books, they can’t afford to buy many themselves. Don’t be selfish. All of our human knowledge is there in books. Not everyone can afford broadband access.

  • just sayin’

    just out of interest – how many books would 10% of Irene Knox salary buy?

  • joeCanuck

    Sure, every time you fire a CEO and leave the position vacant with nobody in charge, the costs of running the company always go down.

  • The Raven

    Does it matter, just sayin’, when the libraries are closed anyway?

    Many people under 60 DO use libraries. I live near a rural library, and I see who comes in and out – over-60’s, under-60’s, foreign nationals (lots of), four-times-a-week visits from local classes of kids, kids swotting for their exams, people in to borrow books, movies, music, I’m in my mid thirties and I’m in at least once a week.

    Sure the times are a-changing. But the very basis of our society is the ability to read and write. You take away libraries, especially in rural communities, and at the very least, you remove another avenue for kids to gain that skill.

    Not everyone can get a broadband access in rural and in some cases urban areas of this island. I’m getting a little tired of the answer to everything being on t’internet. Those who say “we’ll wonder why we kept libraries open” fall into the same category as those who said books would be dead within 20 years of the spread of the internet.

    But then…if the answer is on the internet…and you can’t afford a connection, or a PC, or indeed you live in one of the many areas where connections are slow, crap or non-existent, where is it you go to get that access…?

    Oh yes, that’s right: libraries.

    Finally – Linenhall – please correct me if I am wrong – won’t come into the equation for these cuts and closures.

  • William Markfelt

    The continued existence of libraries and broadband access is a separate argument for rural areas. The graphic shows the Greater Belfast area, and I was specifically talking about that.

    I stand over the ‘libraries closed in ten years’ remark, though. Further advances in technology, including broadband with even better speeds, and to rural areas, will make it so. We’ll have reduced to one or two centralised libraries per city or town.

    The same goes for television. It’s on its last legs too in the manner in which we’ve known it since its birth and currently has its head buried in the sand over that. Someone like Murdoch is going to start an internet only TV channel that isn’t so much a linear experience as an ‘on demand’ series of programmes.

    The only thing holding this back is the current mindset regarding intellectual property. Once that’s cracked, the whole arena will change and you will see the disappearance of new books on paper, magazines, music (already well down the track, but still with copyright issues) and film/TV/radio (radio also partially down the track)..

    Those who said books would be dead within 20 years of the spread of the internet would have been correct had the intellectual property debate (and modes of recompense for works) been sorted by now.

  • The Raven

    “The continued existence of libraries and broadband access is a separate argument for rural areas.”

    I’m happy you acknowledge that.

  • just sayin’

    The debate between politicians and Libraries NI has been very narrow to date. I haven’t heard any serious attempt by the senior officials in Libraries NI to come up with some more radical solutions.

    What do the public want from libraries and indeed do they want libraries (as convetionally viewed) at all? If they do and they want these based in buildings, how do we provide that within a lower cost envelop – and remember even with the worst estimated cuts we’re only talking about returning to 2006 expenditure levels.

    Where were the ideas about shifting libraries into shared buildings – leisure centres, health centres and the like, places whre people already are? Shopping centres anyone?

    My guess is that buildings and people are the cost – not books. So why are they not looking at reducing or sharing those costs and maintaining services? Or would the money be better invested in puchasing e-book readers?

  • barnshee

    As already proposed on other threads What about a 5-!0% pay reduction and nobody gets sacked and no libraries close?

  • just sayin’

    i really would like to see that debated openly … chances?

  • joeCanuck

    Yes and I’d like barnshee to tell us if he’d be happy with a 10% cut in his income. I’d actually be in favour of such a voluntary initiative by workers if it also meant a 10% cut in hours. Could help to deal with unemployment if the thriving industries employed more.

  • kells

    Great,stay out of them and leave room for people who have a love of libaries to use them,you philistine!

  • Pippakin

    I know the world has moved on and libraries are not as vital as they once were, but one of the signs of a decent society is its libraries. Closing libraries is closing a door on opportunity for young people and denying older people the opportunity to explore the world through the medium of books.

    I would rather libraries were invested in by all European governments and the internet availability, already in many, extended to all library users.

  • barnshee

    “Yes and I’d like barnshee to tell us if he’d be happy with a 10% cut in his income”

    Happy to take 10% –unfortunately my fee income is down over 30% already. Highly qualified professionals have been laid off -no work for them – in the mean time for example the failed joiners,etc who infest building control remain in situe . In spite of the collapse in building activity they remain in post -not a single redundancy. Planners ?? any jobs lost?? thought not.

    The monster that is the public sector cannot continue

  • joeCanuck

    The monster that is the public sector cannot continue

    Don’t disagree at all. The tendency of all bureaucracies is to increase. They need to be cut back occasionally. The trouble comes in deciding where to make the cuts and libraries can’t be excluded. I was objecting to the idea that they are unnecessary today. That’s just nonsense. Every country knows that to continue to prosper, education is foremost and libraries do play a significant role. As I said earlier, not everyone has broadband access let alone can afford to pay the price of access.

  • Pippakin

    William Markfelt


    Not everyone can afford to buy all the books they would like to read and not everyone can afford computers. Also and importantly not everyone wants to read their books from a screen.

    Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon? Oh dear!

    You are dangerously close to sounding elitist.

  • The story so far.

    Earlier this year, a strategic review of library provision in Greater Belfast (which had a greater density of libraries than other areas) resulted in the planned closure of ten libraries. This followed a consultation which asked :Do you want

    • Modernised and upgraded buildings with cafes, meeting rooms, dedicated exhibition space;
    • A move towards opening hours for libraries and provision providing extended access during evenings and at weekends, to reflect modern lifestyle needs;
    • More staff time available for individual customer support ;
    • Improved stock ;
    • Improved facilities to support lifelong learning and access to information ;
    • Greater access to a range of activities and events to support culture and heritage.

    And answered its own question. If yes, it will be necessary to close a number of libraries in Greater Belfast which are unable to meet this vision. If no you can’t have any of the above. And so it came to pass.

    The strategy is therefore to create super libraries, restructure the staff but with no staff losses, and close down some smaller branch libraries. In sum we will still have a library service but we will have to travel, especially bad news for children (and thir parents) and the elderly.

    As of a couple of days ago.

    Library chief Irene Knox told a Stormont committee that multi million pound cuts might result in a recruitment freeze, reduced stock or shorter opening hours and that staff sickness or pregnancy in a rural library could result in its closure on H&S grounds. This is because a potential recruitment freeze would mean either transferring other staff or closure; by inference if staff were unwilling to travel the library would close.

    And you sort of understand where’s she’s coming from. Libraries are always in the front line of intended cuts, after all schools, hospitals etc are much more important aren’t they? So budgets are reduced, hours are cut, staff not replaced , less stock purchases smaller libraries close, and usage declines without any deliberate strategy of cutting.

    Me, I’m a little more sceptical. It seems to me that the outcomes of the planned strategy and the impact of cuts are one and the same. Fewer libraries with a concentration on super libraries.

    So let’s now look at some facts and figures.

    Northern Ireland Library Service spend £31m a year as follows 51% on staff costs, rates and rent 10%, maintenance 3%, equipment 2%, stock 11%, PFI 12%, corporate costs 7%, Other 4%.

    There are nearly 700 FTE equivalent staff in over 900 posts with over 450 part time staff. Less than seventy of the staff are professionally qualified librarians.

    There are approximately 110 libraries and approximately 60 of these have five or fewer staff (remember most are part time.) There are 18 mobile libraries for the public and 10 for the housebound. you can see where the cuts will fall.

    And now let’s do a little thinking and generate some ideas

    Libraries have not always been publicly funded indeed some of our best known stores used to have subscription libraries eg Boots, and of course our best known library is the Linen Hall. The modern day equivalent would be a video shop.

    Number two why not contract out the library service. It has been done very successfully elsewhere with more stock, longer opening hours and less cost.

    Next. As of now only 11% of the £31m budget is spent on stock i.e. just over three million quid. Why not abolish the public library service and spend the £31 million on
    giving every household in the country a £40 book voucher every year allowing each householder to buy ten books at average book prices. Many households would simply donate their book vouchers to schools and churches and overnight you have instant well stocked public libraries.

    Number four. Why not operate the public library service like and order them via the internet with delivery the next day by post.

    Number five. And this is really really contentious. Why not keep our existing library service. Here’s how. By making use of volunteers to replace staff who leave for whatever reason. A rough rule of thumb is 10% turnover of staff a year. Staff are the most expensive base line cost. As the employment of only 70 professional librarians proves, you don’t in the main need professionals you need gate keepers, shelf stockers and book minders. And with volunteers you get to keep the existing library network, you can even add more locations in schools and churches. You get longer opening hours. The existing library staff get to keep their jobs. You know it makes sense. Everybody benefits.

    The key point about a public library service is accessibility both in terms of opening hours and location. The solution is volunteer staff. Don’t let Irene Knox succeed with her strategy of retrenchment inside super libraries whether by design or by a thousand cuts. Ditch the strategy and if necessary the Chief Executive, her salary alone would buy 25,000 new paperbacks. Keep the libraries open.

    Remember nearly half of our libraries are under threat.

  • burnout

    I am a librarian in the last few weeks of my working life.

    The majority of the population do not regularly use libraries – that is clear in the recent Continuous Household Survey. Why should they? The internet has set a lot of people free – they can find information for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Libraries are gradually dying – lack of money, poor management, the internet, cheap(er) books are all factors.

    When NI-Libraries took over the whole public library service a monster was created, it would have been far, far wiser to have given the Councils the role of running libraries (it works it the UK and ROI). NI-Libraries is wildly over-managed and, in attempting to run a ‘one size fits all’ service has simply added to the problems.

    Personally I think the whole concept of a ‘free’ service is non-viable. Pouring money into providing free recreational reading is simply wasting resources. There certainly is a need for the provision of some public information services, and the role of libraries in providing community spaces may have some value. The use of volunteers, commercil sponsorship, outsourcing may also play a role. But the survival as public libraries as we know them for much monger is not likely.

  • joeCanuck

    Some good ideas there, Articles. You’ve obviously given quite a bit of thought to the subject.

  • Thanks Joe

    It was a little too focused on books but what the heck

    I was raised near a branch library and it was the branch library and the librarians and a grammar school that got me out of the slums.

  • Pippakin


    Your comment applies to so many people who made it through hard times and bad times thanks to the no questions asked solitude and peace of the libraries.

    Everyone should have real access regardless of address or circumstances.

  • Granni Trixie

    My library is in a beautiful Victorian building; it is always busy and you see really young children at storytime as well as older people reading the papers and using computers. The staff are the best and it is like a community facility.

    However a few years ago we learnt that as it would cost too much to upgrade the building to make it fit for purpose that they were planning to raize it to the ground to build a new one. This was in the context where they were also planning to rationalise infrastructure and close down some local branches. One of these was (I think) Sandy Row.

    It beggars belief:proposing to close down libraries where they are most needed and relace a lovely old building…

    Happy to say that due to current financial situation I believe that they are not afterall going to knock down our library housed in an old building. As for the Sandy Row branch ..who knows, excepot that it woiuld be short sighted in educational terms.

  • One of the many factors i didn’t mention about libraries is that they are institutionalised shared spaces and the more of them the better.

    Remember nearly half of our libraries are under threat.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Why not operate the public library service like and order them via the internet with delivery the next day by post.’

    But, as discussed above as a reason to protect them (particularly in rural areas) is that not everyone has a computer or broadband access.

    I still think retention of them is a flawed argument.

    Twenty years ago the idea of talking or typing electronically to others locally or internationally via a box the size of a dinner plate would have got you locked up. Ditto a box the size of a cigarette packet containing 150 music albums.

    Once the intellectual property argument is sorted, the arena changes beyond all recognition. The libraries as we know them will die. What we’ll have is a terminal (probably in a branch of Tescos) where you can dial up the name of a book and for a nominal fee (about £5 in twenty years time) you can download the latest JR Rowling onto your Kindle or Ipad.

    A rebuilding programme is short-sighted, unless the Libraries Service intend to pursue digital text options and salespoints (i.e ‘Linenhall Library in conjunction with Waterstones’). These library rebuilds are buildings with a built in obsolescence otherwise.

    It may even reach the point where ‘libraries’ are a like a cash dispensing machine. No irritations like staff or opening hours or location required. Just plug in at Tescos or the petrol station as part of the weekly shop. There’s not even need for a 100% wired population in rural areas. Download the latest publications (maybe magazines and newspapers too). Small annual direct debited subscription, free to pensioners and the increasing number of the unwaged.

    All this talk of protecting and saving libraries is Canute-like in its rejection of the inevitability of digital technology.

    Even Knox’s ‘super library’ concept is mid-term thinking. Other than as museum pieces, they’ll all be gone in 20 years time.

  • William Markfelt

    Ok that’s one public service that can be dispensed with.

    How about lifelong learning, virtually disappeared already, that’s another.

    Museums, one more.

  • William Markfelt


    I speak as someone with a substantial home library I would not wish to be without. I speak as someone who used, enjoyed, and learnt from both static and mobile libraries.

    But the nostalgia trip does not address the issue and the reality that libraries are a dead duck. As for the ‘learning’ argument, it’s crap. How many working class teenage boys do you think are using a library for any other reason than it’s dry, warm and maybe a place to meet girls? They aren’t in there to expand their knowledge, that’s for sure, and all arguments related to that are nonsense. It simply isn’t happening.

  • William Markfelt

    Adds: Libraries, in a UK, public, free understanding of the concept are a Victorian ‘invention. Sure, they existed in the British Isles (the domain which we are discussing) as early as the 17th century, but they took off in the Victorian era.

    Small boys going up chimneys are, largely, also a Victorian invention, but I see no nostalgia for that.

    The reality is that libraries are a dying concept, a concept to be confined to the annals of history as the digital era gets into full flow. Once the intellectual property argument is sorted, they’re dead. No question. The internet will eventually provide the pdf text of every book ever written, in any language.

    And at the point the need for public libraries will be………..?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘they are institutionalised shared spaces’

    So is a pub. So is a cock fighting arena. So is a church.

    They’re all institutionalised shared space.

    It’s not an argument that really advances the retention of them.

    Pubs have closed Cock fighting arenas have closed. Churches have closed. What makes libraries a special case in the face of advanced delivery of knowledge?

    Once, churches were an integral part of weekly life. Now, they’re irrelevant in a secular society in which Darwinism roams free. There’s no longer a case for some bearded bloke in the sky, for many folk.

    The same argument applies to libraries. They simply aren’t relevant in an era where knowledge is delivered at a few keystrokes, a method that will increase in the coming years, with online knowledge (or entertainment, if you wish to read Barbara Cartland) surpassing anything that public libraries could deliver.

    When Captain Corelli’s Mandolin came out, you could have waited months for the Library Service’s few copies to become available. Now, you can get its current equivalent a few days after release, online. Illegally, it must be said, but it’s there. Eventually the illegality issue will be resolved. A few pence will see the new JRR Rowling available within minutes of ‘publication’, online, perhaps with the file having a post-dated obsolescence, thus demanding some sort of limit in which you can read it (or repurchase it).

    This is the future. Libraries are a thing of the past. I say that without glee, but more as an admission of the reality of the situation. If we’re going to cling incessantly to the past, and old ways of doing things then we, as a society, are screwed. Human nature is to move forward, to advance, and digital delivery is the future. Libraries simply aren’t.

  • joeCanuck


    When the personal computer revolution started, the prediction was that offices would rapidly become paperless. Instead, the growth in sales of printer paper became phenomenal. If there are more than 4 pages to read, I personally print them off. I don’t have an “i-book” and don’t intend to buy one and I’m perfectly happy with my G2 phone – I use it to make telephone calls. Admittedly, I am retired, and I don’t mind you calling me a fuddy-duddy if you want to.

  • William Markfelt


    I accept all you say and agree with it. I don’t text. O don’t actually do mobile phones much at all. I don’t do HD TV, or digital set top boxes, and I can spend an entire evening buried in a paper version of the Lord or the Rings (again).

    I want to keep the books and revisit them, just as I do vinyl records.

    I’m not some teenage IT freak, but I do recognise where the future lies. That doesn’t mean I like it, but I think it’s inevitable that libraries are on the way out.

  • Mike

    I grew up in Bangor in the 1980s – the library van came to the street next to ours. We didn’t use it (others families did) – we went regularly to the Carnegie library.

    Think it still does the rounds, and as my dad still points out (as he did back then), its seems quite a waste of money since Bangor does have a good, well-stocked library in the centre of town.

  • The logic of which is let’s cut our losses now, we’ll save more money sooner and longer for what is the inevitable.

    £31 over ten years is eighty new schools (no books mind you).